Mobile clinic brings health care to rural Pennsylvanians

University Park, Pa. -- For people who live in rural areas, access to health care is often a challenge. Now, residents of Greene County, Pennsylvania, have better access to health care, thanks to the mobile clinic established by Mona Counts, Elouise Ross Eberly Professor of Nursing at Penn State. The mobile clinic is an extension of the Primary Care Center of Mt. Morris (PCC), which is also located in Greene County and which Counts co-founded in 1994.

“The mobile clinic is absolutely necessary for Greene County,” says Counts. “There’s no fixed public transportation, which makes it difficult to get to the county’s limited number of health care centers. And, like most of rural Pennsylvania, many habitants are either underinsured or uninsured. We wanted to take the doctor’s office to them.”

The clinic, one of two funded in the state, began running on Feb. 27, following a ceremony attended by Bill DeWeese, majority whip of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and Paula Milone-Nuzzo, dean of Penn State’s School of Nursing. The custom-built 40-foot vehicle, complete will wheelchair access, then took to the road, staffed by a nurse practitioner, a medical assistant, a driver and a part-time social worker who provides counseling services to individuals and families.

The clinic travels across Greene County, parking at churches, senior centers, and other public meeting places. The primary goals of the mobile clinic are the identification of health care needs, early intervention, and the promotion of preventive measures through patient education.

“Within the first week, we came across several individuals with previously undiagnosed chronic conditions, such as diabetes,” says Counts. “They hadn’t been to see a doctor in years because they didn’t have health care coverage, couldn’t afford health care costs, or couldn’t make it to the doctor’s office because it was too far.”

Currently, the mobile clinic’s services include: history and physicals; laboratory services; management of chronic illnesses; treatment of acute illnesses; screenings; counseling; and patient education for wellness and prevention, diabetic education, self-care practices, nutrition and behavior modification. All services are provided on a sliding scale, thanks to funding provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Greene County, located south of Pittsburgh, is primarily rural, and classified as “medically underserved” by the federal government. It is one of two counties in Pennsylvania identified by the Appalachian Regional Commission as a distressed Appalachian County, with a mean household income nearly 25 percent below the state average, and low income housing accounting for 44 percent of the households in the county.

The clinic is funded until June 2009, at which point Counts and her team will apply for more funding, if needed, and possibly expand upon the services offered.

“We’d like to work with small businesses to provide preventive screenings to their employees, and we also want to offer dental services. Ideally, we’d like the mobile clinic to be a self-sufficient unit, using money derived from contracts with small businesses and organizations, so that we can continue offering low-cost services to those who need it the most. This clinic is a great service for county residents, and we will go wherever we need to.”

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Last Updated November 18, 2010