For one young man, the visit was preventive. He knew high blood pressure ran in his family, so he went to have his checked. For another family, it was a primary care visit for their children, one that may have otherwise been impossible due to work schedules and transportation challenges.
These patients were able to get quality health care through the Augusta University/University of Georgia mobile health clinic.
Since March, faculty, residents and medical students at the AU/UGA Medical Partnership have run a mobile health clinic, bringing free health care to underserved communities in Athens to help people get the health care they need, despite obstacles they may face. The clinic volunteers travel to neighborhoods around town, setting up tables and tents in the heart of the communities.
The mobile health clinic has humble roots. An interdisciplinary group of faculty across the University of Georgia, along with community partners, recognized the need for a mobile health clinic over five years ago. This was validated by findings in a 2015 Community Health Needs Assessment.
The clinic’s goal is to reach both uninsured and underinsured patients who have trouble accessing health care through the traditional outlets because of transportation issues, untraditional work schedules or other barriers. As part of a twelve-month pilot program, primary care is delivered to all ages and genders with acute and chronic conditions, as well as health screening and prevention.
Nearly 38 percent of Athens’ residents live at or below the poverty line according to 2016 census data, and an estimated 13 percent of Georgians are currently uninsured.
Dr. Suzanne Lester, assistant professor at the AU/UGA Medical Partnership and practicing physician at Piedmont Athens Regional, partnered with UGA pre-medical students Zac Adams and Hamzah Ali to bring the vision to life.
Adams is working toward a bachelor’s degree in genetics and a Master of Public Health in epidemiology, and Ali (BS ’18), will begin medical school in the fall at the AU/UGA Medical Partnership. Both volunteered at the Mercy Health Center and Shifa Clinic, free-standing clinics in Athens that meet a large need, but both students realized there were populations not being reached.
“Patients have to come to those clinics by themselves,” Ali says. “Now we are going into these people’s homes.”
When patients arrive at the clinic, they register with medical students who take vitals and initial notes about the reason for the visit. The patients then work with residents and physicians for a diagnosis and treatment.
“This is not simply a health screening,” Lester says.
In less than five months, the mobile health clinic has seen 100 patients, an estimated value of over $17,000 of free medical care.
The mobile clinic service route is determined by data from the 2015 Community Health Needs Assessment for Athens-Clarke County, as well as census track data, the Athens Wellbeing Project atlas and input from community partners. Patrick Reilly, program coordinator for the Northeast Health District with the Georgia Department of Public Health is one of the community leaders who helps identify and notify neighborhoods.
“It makes me happy to see the confluence of community and interagency partnerships take shape” Reilly states. “Agencies are working alongside each other with the common goal of extending care to the community, meeting the community where they are outside of the confines of traditional brick and mortar. If we want to see changes in the community’s health, it’s where we all need to be.”
Not only is this clinic an asset for the people of Athens, but it’s allowing UGA undergraduates, Medical Partnership students and medical residents to have a hands-on experience in patient care with an inside look into their community.
“As soon as you go into a community, you see the need that’s present,” Adams says. “It’s been a really unique experience that many students don’t get. It’s great to be a part of that.”
Lester agrees. “Because of the great need across Athens, and the privilege of meeting patients in their communities, the mobile free clinic is some of the most rewarding work I do.”
For more information or ways to support the mobile clinic, contact Mary Kathryn Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org.