Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
The healthcare needs of residents in Calhoun County will be met where they are through a mobile health clinic that will begin operating in the Spring.
Known as the Calhoun Wellness Wagon
, the mobile healthcare option is the direct result of residents' responses to a 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment which identified access to quality, affordable healthcare as the top need in Calhoun County, says Hailey Black, Community Public Health Director with the Calhoun County Health Department.
“This was identified as the most urgent quality of life issue to address in Calhoun County,” Black says. “If you talk to people doing healthcare work they will say that access is an issue and transportation comes along with that for those who don’t have a reliable means of getting to a healthcare provider.”
Through additional surveys, Black says the Health Department was able to identify how walkable the route is to reach a healthcare provider or how much it costs them to get to a clinic by bus or through a rideshare option.
“Rather than asking folks to navigate these issues to come to us, we are coming to them,” she says. “The intent is to bring familiar and inclusive care to people where they are comfortable or feel safe. We want to provide this care in places where people are already with trusted community leaders.”
The 27-foot-long mobile health clinic includes an exam room, an on-site laboratory, and a private bathroom. It also is ADA-accessible with a wheelchair lift towards the rear of the mobile unit.
The purchase price of the RV that has been retrofitted as a health clinic was $148,569. Black says funding through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act
covered the cost of the vehicle purchase.
The annual budget for the operation of the Wellness Wagon will depend on the number of services provided to county residents. Black says once the mobile clinic is running, the CCHDP will be able to better determine the budget for it.
But the focus is on providing basic healthcare services to county residents who often struggle to access medical care, not the money, she says.
Information on a website dedicated to the mobile health clinic says that the "Calhoun Wellness Wagon is dedicated to improving the health of our community by increasing access to care for those in medically underserved areas and providing preventative care where it is needed. Most importantly, we strive to establish a safe, nonjudgmental environment where people of all backgrounds can receive direct medical care.”
The wrap design for the mobile health clinic features iconic images from throughout the county including a church steeple and tower found in Albion and the water fountain in Marshall.
“The design is very intentional and rooted in the communities we serve. It has elements of city and rural areas,” Black says. “My hope is that when people see the Wellness Wagon, they will see themselves.”
Among the locations where residents will likely see the Wellness Wagon parked are different neighborhoods throughout the county, churches, or community events. Black says she and her team also plan to be available for special events involving youth groups who want to get vaccinations up to date or organizations who want to test for lead levels.
“We’re building on existing partnerships that we have and creating new ones,” she says.
The day-to-day medical care provided by CCPHD nurses and nurse practitioners, Community Health Ambassadors, and Health Educators staffing the Wellness Wagon, will mirror what is offered through the county’s Health Department. This includes reproductive health care, vaccinations, lead testing, the testing for and treatment of Hepatitis C and HIV, and referrals to CCPHD programs such as WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), Infant Safe Sleep, and the Nurse-Family Partnership which is a home visiting program for new parents.
Black says that 80 percent of the healthcare people need is determined in a non-acute setting meaning that it does not require treatment in an in-patient hospital setting. For more acute cases such as those involving potential heart issues or strokes, she says referrals will be made to medical professionals who specialize in these areas.
This is the same protocol used in the CCPHD’s clinic setting.
“If what we are seeing in a patient is approaching the level of emergency care, we can immediately transition that patient to that level of care and if the medical issue requires primary care we can make those referrals,” Black says. “The Wellness Wagon doesn’t have urgent care capabilities. We are more focused on preventative care.”
Insurance will be accepted but is not required. Black says some of the services provided are free while others will be offered on a sliding fee scale.
“We are very much focused on closing existing gaps that discourage people from seeking the medical care they need to stay healthy,” Black says. “This was identified as a top need by our residents and we want to make sure that we are doing as much as possible to meet that need.”