Mobile clinic brings health care services to Linton Oaks
Published: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 at 10:05 p.m.
Until the bricks-and-mortar Southwest Health Department Clinic is up and running in Gainesville's Linton Oaks neighborhood, a newly established, twice-weekly mobile clinic will serve insured and uninsured locals alike.
The Southwest Health Department Mobile Clinic launched with a soft opening two weeks ago.
Michelle Nall, a nurse practitioner with the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County who works there, said it's off to a slow start.
She and her colleagues were sitting in front of the clinic on wheels Thursday afternoon waiting for newcomers to drop by.
They're still figuring out the best way to organize things, she said, and they need to do something nice with the bare walls to make the place a little cozier.
"It's certainly been slow. Some people just kind of wander up and wonder what we're doing," she said.
But the people they've seen so far have been excited about the mobile clinic, which is open to everyone regardless of where they live or their ability to pay, she said.
The clinic provides primary care for adults as well as HIV testing, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, family planning, and other services. People can get free birth control there, as well.
The county health department hopes to provide pediatric care and immunizations at the mobile clinic in the future, Nall said.
"I think people are just really happy to have a nearby medical center," she said. "It's been awesome for us as clinicians because this is like public health at its best."
The mobile clinic is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 816 SW 64th Terrace in the parking lot of the building that eventually will house the permanent clinic, which sits across from the SWAG Family Resource Center.
Nall said she expects more people will start coming to the clinic soon and that she already has seen a handful of people, including repeat patients. She understands the hesitancy — it's a little unusual at first to have a trailer suddenly show up in the neighborhood.
So far, almost all of the patients have had an issue that's gone unaddressed for a long time because they lacked access to health care — including people with high blood pressure who haven't had their medication, Nall said.
"At this point, I want people to feel comfortable coming up here for absolutely anything at all," she said.
Anthony Smalls Jr., a 21-year-old Linton Oaks resident, hasn't gone to the clinic yet. He said he's giving it a couple of weeks to see how it's going and to get used to having it across from his house.
While the mobile clinic is a good start, he said the permanent clinic is still needed — and would add to the improvements he has seen in the Linton Oaks community.
"For as long as I've been out here, they've put SWAG out here, they've put the health department out here," he said.
The county health department plans to operate the mobile clinic through at least the end of this year until the permanent facility is renovated, health department administrator Paul Myers said.
"I think that our hope in providing this temporary solution to the substantial health needs in the southwest part of Gainesville is that residents will come out and utilize this service," he said. "Our practitioners have a lot to offer in that neighborhood."
The renovation is taking longer than everybody involved wanted, Myers said. Bids for the work came in at just under $500,000.
Around $250,000 has been set aside for renovations — $190,000 from the County Commission, which also bought the building, and $60,000 from the Rotary Club of Gainesville.
But another quarter-million dollars is still needed to pay for the renovation, Myers said. He said he hopes to bridge that funding gap in part by going through the re-bidding process to shave off some of the cost where possible.
The nonprofit Southwest Advocacy Group (SWAG), which has been closely involved with plans for both the permanent clinic and the resource center since the beginning, also will be raising money to help fill that gap.
The Florida Blue Foundation has awarded a three-year grant totaling $300,000 to partially fund a position for a nurse practitioner at the clinic once it's renovated, Myers said. Some of that money is being used now to support Nall's work at the mobile clinic.
Dorothy Thomas, SWAG's fundraising chair, said her organization hopes to make up some of the $250,000 gap through in-kind as well as monetary donations and grant funding.
The goal is to have a contractor in place by the middle of the summer and to potentially open the clinic in early 2015, she said.
In addition to handling the fundraising for the clinic, SWAG serves as a link to Linton Oaks and the surrounding community.
"We are the link to make sure that the needs of the community are best being met," Thomas said.
Every year, residents of the 32607 ZIP code are responsible for 3,726 avoidable emergency room visits, she said. A recent survey of area residents showed around 19 percent were using the ER as their only health care source, while 12 percent weren't getting any health care at all.
A quarter of respondents were getting care only through the county health department, and transportation is a huge problem for them, she said.
Jenn Petion, director of community and government relations for Partnership for Strong Families, which operates the SWAG resource center, said the mobile clinic alleviates the transportation burden on residents who otherwise would have to take the bus to the county health department, which is located in east Gainesville.
Some people have to take a day off work just to make the trip to the health department, which from Linton Oaks can take up to two hours by bus.
"So for them, this brings services right into their community," she said.
For more information or to donate, visit swhealthclinic.org.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.