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Health Care on Wheels

In the last two decades, the number of mobile clinics in the nation has grown to nearly 2,000, according the Mobile Health Clinics Association. (Giuseppe Bollanti/Wikimedia Commons)
In the last two decades, the number of mobile clinics in the nation has grown to nearly 2,000, according the Mobile Health Clinics Association. (Giuseppe Bollanti/Wikimedia Commons)
February 22, 2016

SEATTLE - A trip to the clinic can be costly and time-consuming for individuals and families in Washington who work and have little time to take off, but an innovative approach brings clinics to clients.

Mobile health clinics are gaining popularity for people with limited or no access to a conventional doctor's office.

Darlene Fanus runs a mammogram clinic from a tractor-trailer unit, and serves tribal communities in Western Washington, including Seattle.

"When you're doing just regular screenings for a woman, if you're going for a mammogram you take half a day off from work, you're going to that mammogram, you're waiting for your results," she says. "And when I drive up and do it, and you can be in and out in 15 minutes."

Fanus serves both insured and uninsured patients, traveling to places of employment to give screenings. The demand is high. Fanus has two vehicles and does about 6,000 screenings per year.

Mobile clinics in Washington provide an array of services to both rural and urban areas. In Yakima Valley, the clientele is mostly seasonal workers receiving checkups in the field.

In urban areas they tend to serve homeless adults and youth, and those unable to visit a regular clinic. Rob McNair-Huff, director of communications with Metropolitan Development Council, works with homeless residents in Tacoma.

His organization partners with a mobile dental clinic, which often gives people access to services beyond the care of their teeth.

"We bring our expertise in mental health, and we know access to dental care is very important to their health and well-being as well," he says. "So, this partnership with the dental clinic and having a van that can come out twice a month plays an integral role for us."

Fanus is also a board member for the Mobile Health Clinics Association. She marvels at the job the rapidly expanding number of mobile clinics do, especially in cases of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

"I'm in awe about what is provided out there within the country," says Fanus. "They're kind of unsung heroes because they show up and do their job, like with Katrina, where there was nothing else that could be done down there than bring these mobile vehicles in."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA