Family Health Center Mobile Health Clinic will serve KPS

The Learning Network of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation is working to address a wide range of needs that hold children back from learning. To tackle the need for better health care, a 40-foot-long, 300-square-foot mobile medical unit is ready to serve students and families of Kalamazoo Public Schools.

The mobile unit is the result of a community-wide effort to address a key element to improving access to health care and was funded  through a $683,163 grant from The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo.

The mobile medical unit will be going from school to school across the district. It includes three examination rooms and a waiting area, and will be staffed by two teams of three health care professionals with expertise in pediatric and adolescent care. 

Communities in Schools will coordinate student access to the services of the unit. "Parents will need to enroll their children and give their consent,"  Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo Executive Director Pam Kingery says. "Communication with parents will be really important. We want this service to be convenient and easily available and accessible."

In addition to walk-in service for acute conditions like colds and flu, the mobile health unit will offer routine immunizations, well-child exams and support for chronic health conditions.

"Think of it as a rolling outpatient doctor’s office," says Denise Crawford, president and CEO of the Family Health Center. "It delivers comprehensive care such as physicals, immunizations, well-child visits and other services that are vital to protecting young patients from preventable diseases and poor health."

The Family Health Center has recognized for some time that students and youth, especially those who are at-risk because they are uninsured, underinsured, or on Medicaid or Healthy Michigan plans often go without the health care they need, says Bill Mayer, MD, senior vice president for managed care and community health at Bronson Methodist Hospital.

Mayer, a member of The Learning Network’s leadership council who recently served as FHC’s interim chief medical officer, worked with KPS Superintendent Michael Rice and with Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo Executive Director Pam Kingery to discuss ways of addressing health care access for the district’s students. 

Through those discussions they determined a model of health care delivery that was new to the community was needed, so they proposed a way that a mobile clinic would visit the schools.

"The unit’s clinical staff could see more students who don’t traditionally access preventive health care, and have the flexibility to address more significant health issues when and where the need is greatest," Mayer says.

Multiple studies of the local situation have cited more and better access to health care services among Kalamazoo county’s top health needs priorities. A 2013 report by the Kalamazoo County Community Action Agency of the Department of Health and Community Services found that families considered economically disadvantaged were the least likely to receive adequate healthcare. These families were most likely to be families of color.

A study by Bronson Methodist Hospital, also in 2013, found the case for improved access so compelling that it became the priority focus for the hospital through Dec. 1, 2016. The report cited poverty as a significant risk factor for chronic health issues. Among the noteworthy findings from that study: "The need to support youth in understanding health issues and building healthy habits early is paramount to improving the health of the community long term."

While poverty has increased in almost all school districts in Kalamazoo County, the highest concentration of low- and moderate-income families lives and works in the urban core of the City of Kalamazoo and their children attend Kalamazoo Public Schools. 

For the 2015-2016 school year, nearly 70 percent of KPS students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, a common measure to describe households that have limited incomes, limited purchasing power, and less access to services like healthcare.

"We knew — and the data regularly tell us —that we have extremely high rates of chronic diseases like diabetes, congestive heart failure, and hypertension within our community," says Crawford. "And we know these are far more rampant within our poorest neighborhoods and among populations of color, meaning primarily African American as well as Hispanic. KPS represents for us one of our largest opportunities for change."

Several Kalamazoo organizations came upon the idea for a different approach to health care delivery at about the same time. The Bronson Community Health Needs Assessment identified issues with availability and ease of getting to see a doctor among the common themes of its focus groups. Specifically, the issue of transportation to appointments was cited.

These views were similar to opinions expressed by participants in focus groups conducted by the Kalamazoo Center for Youth and Community (KCYC). Late in 2014, KCYC met with families in the Eastside and Eastwood neighborhoods. Their goal was to try to understand the educational needs of the families living there. Among the challenges parents voiced was transportation for doctor visits.

Meanwhile, FHC was talking to Kalamazoo Public Schools about the same challenge.

"Our goal is to maximize the distribution of learning readiness and learning support resources while minimizing the disruption to core instruction, all in the interests of school achievement and success in life," Kingery says.

Crawford says improved student health and individual education outcomes are just some of the long-term benefits of the mobile clinic, which would not have been possible without the grant from The Learning Network.

"This marks a profound change in the way we view health care delivery," she says. "We are instilling the value of health in our young people. It is a significant positive for our community that will have a lasting impact over the long-term."

The grant money from The Learning Network was part of a W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant that launched The Learning Network in 2011. Criteria for the grant — serving an urban population and meeting a clearly defined need that emerged from community engagement — was a perfect fit for the health unit.

"Health care is fundamental to education," says Amy Slancik, director of The Learning Network. "It isn’t just about being healthy enough to learn though that is crucially important. By delivering health care directly to our schools, we have the potential to transform the long-term health and vitality of a generation of young people. In this way, we can transform our collective future."

Source: Rick Chambers, Rick Chambers Associates
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