Mobile units deliver health care to homeless
Pinellas County, Fla. — Since 1988, the Department of Social Services has operated a Mobile Medical Unit to provide medical and dental care to homeless citizens. Recently, the county added another unit and medical team to better serve the underprivileged in the community. Pinellas is the only county in the United States to operate two such vans.
Since the introduction of the county’s first mobile unit, nearly 40,000 citizens have visited the rolling doctor’s offices. The medical staffs make regular stops at shelters, soup kitchens and drop-in centers, typically seeing about 20 patients per day.
Each van houses a fully equipped examination room. The unit is staffed by a physician and a nurse, who give primary medical care to children and adults. Services include school or employment physicals, immunizations, blood pressure screenings, flu shots, prescriptions and referrals to other providers in the social services network. A social worker also is on board the van to educate homeless citizens about the nearest shelters, counseling centers and employment services.
The Mobile Medical Units originally were created to relieve overcrowding in hospitals’ emergency rooms, which many homeless persons used for their medical care. Though most homeless people were eligible for treatment by the county health department, frequently they would not seek assistance until they were seriously ill and required hospitalization. Additionally, many visited the hospitals with non-emergency problems, which could cost up to $400 per visit (paid by local tax dollars).
The units have allowed medical workers to provide regular preventive care, which results in an overall savings to taxpayers. Additionally, since the doctors’ offices come to them, citizens are saved from needless visits to the emergency room.