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45-foot truck takes health care on road

Don’t bother showing up early if you have an appointment at Medicine on the Move. The clinic might not be there yet.

The unusual clinic on wheels is a partnership between Health Plan of Nevada and Southwest Medical Associates. It has been operating since April 2016, as many as six days a week. Drivers Ernie Drown and Chris Philips take the 45-foot truck to locations across the state, but primarily in Southern Nevada.

“It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to set it up,” Philips said. “We’ve got to make sure everything is level; then we pull out the pop-out sides, install the steps and banister, unpack the furniture and set up the office. Then we act as security while the clinic is on location. When it’s all done it takes about the same amount of time to pack up.”

Inside, it’s hard to tell the clinic is mobile. Faux wood floors and faux granite counter tops are made of non-porous materials so the vehicle can be cleaned daily and sterilized. The clinic is set up to handle anything that can be done in a brick-and-mortar clinic. It is equipped with two examination rooms, a mobile lab and a mammography machine that has been nicknamed Lucille, by Crystal Nelson, one of the mammography technologists who staff the clinic.

“I named it for my husband’s grandmother, who is a two-time breast cancer survivor,” Nelson said.

The clinic can handle immunizations, X-rays, ultrasounds, and physical and laboratory exams. It has been to the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, FamilyConnect, St. Patrick’s Church food pantry, the Volunteers of America shelter for the homeless and more.

“The idea behind the mobile clinic was that we really need to reach our patients out in the community and make it easy for them to access health care,” said Toni Corbin, senior vice president of operations at Southwest Medical Associates. “We’re taking health care on the road to where it’s needed.”

HPN regional director of communication Trevor Hayes added, “Can you imagine taking a bus and making two transfers with three kids in tow? Health Plan of Nevada asked Southwest Medical Associates to design and build the clinic. We tell them where we have members that need to be served, and they staff the vehicle and figure out how to get it there.”

Medicine on the Move has made four trips to the Reno area, and the staff has worked with small communities between Reno and Las Vegas.

“Some of those rural communities along the way don’t have access to mammograms, retinal eye scanning and some other important wellness exams,” Corbin said.

The vehicle’s primary purpose is serving Medicaid areas, but it also was built to serve students in Clark County schools, Hayes said. Medicine on the Move made its first such stop March 13 when it went to Cannon Junior High School, 5850 Euclid Ave.

“We were noticing that there was a gap in the youth who were coming into our clinics,” said Dr. Rutu Ezhuthachan, medical director of Health Plan of Nevada. “There were infants coming in for check-ups and kids who needed to take medical exams for sports and not much else. We asked ourselves how we could better serve that community and get them in for visits.”

The staff hopes to bring the mobile clinic to at least eight more schools by the end of the school year, and it is working out the details with principals and other Clark County School District staffers. Parents of middle- and high-schoolers can sign a waiver so the doctors can see the patients without the parents having to come in.

“The clinic takes care of patients that are already in the system,” Ezhuthachan said. “It keeps parents from having to make another trip somewhere, especially since the mobile medical overlaps pick-up and drop-off times.”

There are no plans to create new Medicine on the Move vehicles, but there may be eventually.

“Right now the mobile clinic is satisfying the needs of the community,” Corbin said. “There may come a time when that isn’t the case, especially now that we’re going to the schools. We’d love to get to the point where we’re established well enough that we need to expand the program.”

To reach reporter F. Andrew Taylor, email ataylor@viewnews.com or call 702-380-4532.

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