Care Mobile to hit the road

June 23, 2018

Local children growing up in low-income families soon will have access to free health care in their own neighborhoods.

Parkview Health and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeast Indiana today unveiled a mobile clinic that will hit the road July 9 to provide uninsured children with numerous services, including well-child care, vaccinations, vision and hearing testing, flu testing and lead screening.

Parents will also be taught about safe sleeping positions for babies and the need for vaccinations and bicycle helmets, among other topics.

The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile was purchased with a $400,000 grant from the Ronald McDonald House Charities global organization. It is the 50th vehicle of its kind in the world and the 40th in the United States.

LifeLine Mobile Inc. of Columbus, Ohio, builds all the mobile clinics for the organization.

“They are experts at knowing how to make the most of this space,” said Jen Veatch, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeast Indiana.

Although the clinic will focus on children from birth to 5 years old, no child younger than 18 who requests medical care will be turned away, Veatch said.

Her local nonprofit is supplying the vehicle and will do fundraising to cover ongoing operating expenses. Parkview Health will provide three paid staff members to operate the vehicle and deliver health care.

Dr. Tony GiaQuinta, a pediatrician with Parkview Physicians Group, is passionate about poor children’s need for medical care. He was one of several speakers during a ceremony at the Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation.

His goal in life is to care for all children. But that’s not possible, he said, when some grow up in such poverty that their parents can’t afford the gas needed to take them to a doctor’s visit.

Some children, GiaQuinta said, don’t grow up as healthy as others simply because of their families’ economic status. Where they live is a determining factor in whether they will receive basic health care, including childhood vaccinations.

“That’s a travesty,” said GiaQuinta, who is also president of Indiana’s chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“For an area that has seen so many challenges for children, this bus is a win,” he said. “This is a really powerful commitment to Fort Wayne’s children.”

Larry Rowland traced the three-year journey that went into putting the mobile clinic on the road. He has strong connections to both organizations as a past president of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeast Indiana and former executive director of the Parkview Hospital Foundation.

In his position with Parkview, he learned that some Fort Wayne ZIP codes have a higher infant mortality rate than Nigeria.

While attending a Ronald McDonald House Charities conference, Rowland learned about the Care Mobiles.

“I drove home and kept thinking, What if? What if? What if?” he told the audience of about 75.

Rowland started local conversations and found strong support. Officials gathered data, developed a business plan and applied for a grant.

And they were denied.

But with guidance from the global nonprofit, the second local grant application was approved, one of only six granted worldwide in 2018.

“When you think about it, it was quite an accomplishment,” said Rowland, who heaped praise on various individuals who participated in the effort.

“I think we’ve got a terrific asset that will help meet the needs of the underserved community,” he added.

The 40-foot-long, 8-foot-wide vehicle includes two exam rooms and an area where parents can sit and fill out paperwork. Handicapped patients can board the vehicle using the wheelchair lift.

The staff will comprise a nurse practitioner, a medical assistant and a driver who will register patients. Although a doctor won’t regularly staff the clinic, GiaQuinta said he plans to work some shifts.

To begin, the Care Mobile will visit neighborhoods Monday through Thursday, Veatch said.

Plans call for it to visit one location in the morning and a different one in the afternoon, she said.

Staff is obligated to bill insurance, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, and collect the co-pay if a patient has coverage, Veatch said. 

Patients without insurance will be treated for free.

GiaQuinta said the goal is to help families create an ongoing relationship with a physician. Parkview staff will help parents apply for financial assistance and insurance programs for low-income families to make sure they can afford the visits, he said.

Although some medical practices limit the percentage of patients they will accept on Medicaid because of low reimbursement rates, Parkview doesn’t place those limits on its pediatricians, GiaQuinta said.

Mike Packnett, Parkview Health’s CEO, said children can’t have a personal healtcare journey if they don’t have access to health care.

“This is going to be so wildly successful as we go around the area,” he said, adding that he anticipates the biggest problem will be meeting demand.