The ultimate medical house call | Health
Pinellas County -- It’s been rolling into the parking lots of homeless shelters and outreach centers throughout Pinellas County since mid August, serving the primary medical needs of this area’s homeless and indigent population. But recently, Pinellas County’s new Mobile Medical Unit made its official debut outside of the Pinellas County Courthouse Complex in downtown Clearwater.
The doors opened, not to give medical exams, but to welcome elected officials, community partners and county staff who came by for an open house and dedication ceremony of this new, fourth generation vehicle.
Visitors who came by were generally impressed with the new mobile facility.
The new unit is taller than previous versions. Expandable sides give staff much more room inside. Additional room means extra equipment and the ability to better serve the area’s less advantaged population.
“We can serve more people at the same time,” says Pinellas County Health and Human Services Health Care Administrator Lynn Kiehne, who was on hand for the dedication. “We have two fully functional exam rooms. We also can do labs (draw blood) in the van because we have a lab drawing station. The van has its own bathroom, which was always a challenge with the old van, and we have two separate spaces for case managers to really work with the homeless on any other social service issues that they have, so we have a lot more capacity and a lot more space.”
Full medical teams go out with the vehicle, including a physician or physician’s assistant, nurses, case managers, eligibility staff and clerical support. Case managers assist in helping visitors access other benefits to which they may be entitled, such as bus passes or other social service provisions.
Teams can treat a variety of physical ailments as well as dental or mental health concerns. The numbers add up to more than 2,500 unduplicated homeless patients being treated annually for immediate and ongoing health issues. Treatment at the MMU can help avoid future trips to local emergency rooms at the taxpayer’s expense.
“What we have found is that without the van,” says Kiehne, “many homeless people go nowhere, or they go to the emergency room when something comes up. ER care is generally more expensive since patients’ illnesses are usually more advanced due to the lack of preventive or primary care. The homeless can’t pay, so the costs are usually passed along to all of us. So, the MMU is really saving taxpayer dollars by treating citizens earlier in the disease process and hopefully avoiding the ER.”
The new MMU cost about $420,000 off the showroom floor; it was primarily funded with grants obtained through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. The program itself operates on $845,000 annually with partial funding coming from the federal Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of Primary Health Care.
To Pinellas County’s homeless and indigent population, it’s the ultimate medical house call. To Pinellas County taxpayers, the Mobile Medical Unit offers that all important ounce of prevention to stave off an expensive pound of cure further on down the road.
If you have any questions regarding the services offered by the Mobile Medical Unit or are interested in where it’s going to be in the upcoming weeks, call Pinellas County’s Health and Human Services department at (727) 582-7577 or (727) 582-7807 or visit www.pinellascounty.org/humanservices.