Mobile clinic will tackle health disparities in St. Pete • St Pete Catalyst
With a four-year, $3.85 million grant, the University of South Florida College of Nursing will soon provide access to mobile health care in medically underserved communities like South St. Petersburg .
The grant, awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), allows the USF College of Nursing to build a 21-foot Mobile Health Unit (MHU), with two exam rooms, a bathroom, and a retractable awning. The MHU will serve areas of Tampa Bay that are in desperate need of holistic health care and will provide invaluable educational opportunities for students.
The mobile clinic staff will include two advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), a patient care coordinator, a faculty preceptor and students. Dr. Usha Menon, senior associate vice president of USF Health and dean of the college, said the goal is to build student skills in a portable setting while addressing health disparities and inequities. in underserved communities.
“These are the communities that they (HRSA) want us to work in, and they want to make sure that students know how to manage a treatment plan, a care plan for an individual,” Menon said. “Not only taking into account their physical conditions, but also the social determinants of health that impact that person’s health outcomes.”
Menon explained that a person’s environment, income, housing instability and food insecurity impact their health. She said the MHU initiative would teach students how to care for patients while considering these external factors.
Using high blood pressure as an example, Menon said that instead of just giving a patient a pill, the idea is to consider that they might not be able to afford medication. She added that their diet could contribute to the problem and said nutrition students from the College of Public Health would participate in the program.
“If you tell someone who is very poor and can’t pay rent every month and is trying to keep food on the table for the family that they have to buy fresh food from Whole Foods, that doesn’t work,” Menon said. “So we refer them to nutrition students, and those students work with them on a plan that’s achievable for them.”
Construction of the custom MHU is underway and Menon expects completion in approximately eight months. She said it would serve as a mobile primary care facility for 15 to 20 patients a day. Once operational, it will alternately serve the communities of South St. Pete, Port Tampa Bay, Sulfur Springs, Tampa Heights and Wimauma.
Menon said students would undergo MHU mission-specific training before entering communities. This includes education on social determinants, health disparities and cultural sensitivity.
“So remember, different cultures eat differently,” she said. “And it’s not always possible for someone to change their diet immediately because we tell them because they have to cook a certain way for the whole family.”
Menon said each patient they serve would first complete a 26-point form that asks about social factors that affect health. Students and nurse practitioners will then refer to the information when creating a care plan.
Community partnerships are key to the program’s success, and Menon said she will meet next week with Alison Barlow, executive director of the St. Petersburg Innovation District, to discuss planning. Menon said she will also work closely with Sanderlin Health Center as the city’s primary medical partner.
Menon added that she was discussing a referral partnership with BayCare for patients requiring immediate assistance outside of MHU’s scope.
“What if someone comes in and needs an immediate referral to the ER?” she asked rhetorically. “So a lot of configuration is going on.”
Authorities have ordered the chassis for the 21-foot pickup truck from Ford, and Menon expects it to hit the streets of St. Petersburg as soon as it’s ready. She “would love” to have a location in Tampa and St. Pete open simultaneously, but noted that with just one van, they’ll have to alternate days — for now.
The hope, Menon said, is that once the St. Petersburg community realizes the value of the MHU for the south side of the city, various stakeholders will pool their resources to increase route services.
“Maybe get a second van,” she added. “All of these things are very much possible through partnerships.”
Menon realizes that the program is only possible because of the HRSA grant, as USF could not afford the scope and staff of the initiative. She is already looking to the future, and what will happen when the funding disappears in four years, and making sure the sustainability of the program is at the top of her list of priorities.
The MHU, Menon said, will have a freezer to hold vaccines so its staff can provide shots. She said there is a private examination room for gynecological services and she expects to see many patients with hypertension, high blood pressure and diabetes.
“It’s not well controlled because of the typical disparities that exist in these communities that we go to,” Menon said. “A lot of heart disease is linked to things and then to physical issues – you know, people who don’t have a regular place to go for health care.
“So those are some of the main things that I’m anticipating, but we do a solid needs assessment before we go into those communities.”
Menon said that over the next eight months, students will conduct walking surveys in communities, observing and recording factors contributing to poor health outcomes. She said the information would be stored in a database to help create care plans.
Building trust in the community is critical to its success, Menon said, which highlights the importance of partnering with trusted entities in the city. Another key aspect, she says, is consistency.
“We show up, we’re honest and transparent about what we can and can’t do, and we don’t change along the way,” Menon said. “I think the response will be good once we’re in the community.”
Although it will be eight months before the MHU is operational, Menon is already planning launch events where city leaders come to have services performed, such as blood pressure readings. If her dream of acquiring another van comes to fruition, she also hopes to serve other needy communities in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Menon recounted that when discussing all of her goals with her team recently, they noted how much time she must have spent thinking about the project. She said the assessment was accurate.
“I had dreamed of doing this for about 10 years,” Menon said with a laugh. “So, I’m excited.
“But really, I’m excited to bring our students into communities – because ultimately they have to serve those same people when they graduate, and they have to understand what inequality means.”