NPR

Clinics Go Mobile To Take Health Care To The Street

Jamari Brighthaupt, 11, gets blood drawn by registered nurse Rae Montilla at the Georgetown Pediatric Mobile Clinic. (NPR)

Matt Levy, medical director of community pediatrics at Georgetown University, calls mobile health clinics permanently temporary.

He runs one of the clinics in a truck that stations itself at various parking spots throughout Washington at regular hours during the week. He says the clinics like his are both a stopgap and a potential solution for chronic holes in primary medical care for many people.

Mobile clinics have become common across the U.S. in the last two decades. The clinics aim to bring care to communities that are short on insurance and health care providers.

But the clinics' focus on the uninsured has led some to question whether the mobile model will be rendered moot by expansions of insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Darien DeLorenzo, executive director of the Mobile Health Clinics Association, credits the boom of mobile health clinics in recent years to a rise in people without insurance.

But assuming more insurance coverage alone will wipe out barriers to care is overly optimistic, she says. Just because some gaps in insurance coverage are being filled, DeLorenzo says, doesn't mean gaps in the care system have been.

She thinks the clinics are here to stay. And she's not alone.

"Mobile works because it take down geographic barriers to health services; it takes down cultural barriers," says Georgetown's Levy, standing outside the van on First St. in Southeast Washington on a recent Friday afternoon. "We're here. We've been here. We're part of the community."

And that's why Kesia Brighthaupt brought her 11-year-old son here for an HPV shot before the school year starts. They've been coming since Jamari was 4, even though Brighthaupt is one of the few clinic clients who has private insurance.

"I've built up a good rapport with the doctors," Brighthaupt says. "And besides, it's just so much easier to get here."

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