Hospital expands into mobile care

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Hospital expands into mobile careRepresentatives of Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, Sierra Sands Unified School District and Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce celebrate the new Mobile Health Unit — Photo by Laura Austin

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Scores of community leaders were on hand Wednesday morning to celebrate the expansion of care through the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital’s Mobile Health Unit.

With recent health-care reforms, an increase in responsibility for community wellness has been shifted to hospitals, clinics and other medical institutions. RRH has been pro-active in identifying challenges in access to care, and in expanding its services to better fill those needs.

“Healthcare in the future will be provided in many delivery forms, including hospitals, clinics, mobile devices, and at home,” said RRH CEO Jim Suver.

“Our mobile clinic is another option that will allow us to provide care to the future of our community — our children — in a venue that is easily accessible to them.”

RRH has partnered with Sierra Sands Unified School District to improve access by starting with the thousands of students and their families who can be directly served by regular visits to local campuses.

“The number of school-based health centers continues to grow because the need is great and the impact is deep,” said Michelle Walley, administrator of RRH Rural Health. “Ours just happens to be on wheels!”

“There is a huge need for health care in our community, and access remains an issue for many patients,” said Rocio Camacho, mobile clinic manager.

Particularly for isolated areas of the valley, including Inyokern, a lack of transportation prohibits many people from pursuing care.

“Not everyone can come to our physical location. If we can come to them, that lifts a huge burden off their shoulders.”

Walley cited the benefits of the partnership from the perspectives of both agencies involved. For health care providers, it gives them a chance to address needs before they develop into more serious conditions.

“The reality is that many of our children come to school sick, or with unmet medical needs. So it just makes sense to have a school-based health clinic as a key component to providing a quality education,” she said.

“Sick children cannot focus on learning,” agreed Suver. “Anything the hospital can do to improve their health helps our community in the short-term and the long-term. This is our new vision at RRH — keeping our community as well as helping sick people get well.”

“This also gives us an opportunity to take care of entire families,” said Camacho. “When we see students in the schools, we can also see their parents, grandparents and siblings. And of course we can take care of the families for staff members, as well.”

Camacho said that she while the potential impact is to reach thousands of residents, she anticipates the program to start small and grow as word spreads of the new service.

“Take Inyokern as an example. They have 187 students, plus their families. If we see just half of the students there, that is a tremendous impact,” she said.

“We know that wellness is critical to success in education, so we are very excited about potentially improving student learning as well as student health.”

Visits for well-child, immunizations, vision and hearing screenings, as well as treatment for minor illnesses, can all be provided through the mobile clinic.

“We can also do sports physicals for athletes in the high schools,” said Camacho.

“But one of the things having a mobile unit provides is not just an improvement for access, but to health literacy. You have an opportunity to teach children about nutrition and physical fitness so you are not just treating them, you are improving their knowledge and understanding of how they can stay well.”

Elaine Littleton, executive directory of SSUSD’s SELPA, said that the ribbon cutting represents “the culmination of a long journey!

“Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, management and staff, have always been a collaborative partner with the school district and we are looking forward to the implementation of this program.”

Littleton said that Margie Rose, innovation manager of RRH, first reached out to the district with a proposal for a school-based healthcare delivery system. As the coordinator for pupil support services, Littleton took the lead for the district, working alongside RRH and SSUSD staff to formalize the partnership and bring the service to reality.

“The vision of this school-based partnership is to improve the health status of students, especially those of underserved populations.”

She said that Inyokern and Pierce elementary schools, as well as Mesquite and Burroughs high schools, will each host the mobile unit one day a week.

Camacho said that the clinic hopes to add dental services to its portfolio in the future. “Our community is not currently being served by First 5 Kern, so we are going to be making a bid for a grant in the spring. But that won’t happen immediately.”

Expanding services at the grassroots level of the community also helps potentially lift the financial burden on families — as well as health care institutions — by providing medical treatment at preventive and early phases.

“Having access to a clinic is going to make someone less likely to go to the ER for a cold or a headache,” said Camacho, who acknowledged that seeking care in the emergency department is typically the most expensive avenue.

Families can call the mobile health clinic desk at 760-499-3853 to make an appointment at their school sites.

Story First Published: 2018-09-14