Rolling Clinic Delivers Care to Patients in Need
By Caperton Gillett
Monica Newton helps bring medical care to uninsured residents of Selma and Dallas County as part of the innovative Family Doc in a Bus program.
Monica Newton, D.O., doesn’t quite make house calls. But her Family Doc in a Bus program might be the next best thing. Twice a month for a year, she climbed into an RV and hit the road to bring medical care to uninsured residents of Selma and Dallas County.
Newton, an assistant professor of family medicine in the UAB School of Medicine’s Selma Family Medicine Residency Program, says the idea for the program came to her through her office window. “I would see an RV parked in the lot at the Dallas County Health Department across the street,” she recalls. “I kept thinking about what we could do as a residency program to reach out and connect with our community in need.”
Supported by partners throughout the city, county, and state, the residency program purchased and equipped a 33-foot RV trailer to serve as a mobile family-practice clinic. Outfitted with three exam rooms and a lab, Family Doc in a Bus opened in August 2008 and saw its first patient the following month. Since then, the rolling clinic has made more than 20 trips and treated more than 350 patients through more than 600 patient visits, offering a wide range of care from cancer screenings and ophthalmology services to treatment for diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
The 33-foot RV trailer includes three exam rooms and a small laboratory.
From the beginning, the initiative has been a community effort, enabling it to expand and evolve, Newton says. Community volunteers have joined faculty from the SOM Selma family medicine campus to staff the program. The local Lions Club sponsors vision screenings, and the Salvation Army and the Christian Alliance Food Bank have taken turns offering their parking lots—and air-conditioned lobbies—to the mobile clinic. “We also have local pastors and ministers who help if patients have spiritual needs,” Newton says.
Last summer, the Edmonite Missions offered a building in downtown Selma to serve as a permanent, off-road location for the clinic, now held weekly. The RV will roll on, however; Newton plans to take it to sites throughout Dallas County, perhaps every other month.
Family Doc in a Bus is designed to bring the full benefits of health care to patients who couldn’t afford it otherwise. “It’s not a one-stop thing,” Newton says. “Sometimes, when people think of something mobile, they think of a health fair. But it’s not just screenings. We prescribe the patients’ medicine and follow up with them, whether it’s at the next clinic or the next month or three months later. We’re attempting to provide them with the full scope of care.”
Newton examines a patient in the clinic's new permanent location.
Newton reports a surprising number of follow-up visits from the clinic’s patients, with many showing vast health improvements. “I’ll see a patient whose blood pressure has dropped dramatically since his last visit, and I’ll wonder what made the difference,” she says. “Clearly, it’s the ability to get the medications and treatment.” But more important, she adds, “the patients feel more hopeful about their future. They don’t have to worry about their health; they feel like someone is taking care of them. It has been very dramatic to see that on the patients’ faces—how the sense of hopelessness we saw when we started the clinic seems to have changed over time.”