This 2019 Ready Challenge recipient goes into underserved neighborhoods
That's what Baystate Health did with its "clinic on wheels" a mobile health clinic that provides medical care and educational programs for underserved communities in western Massachusetts. The program started this year with a 2019 Ready Challenge grant for $750,000 from TD Bank.
Many individuals in underserved urban and rural communities are not receiving any medical services due to financial and transportation barriers or the lack of neighborhood providers.
To answer the call, the team at Baystate took a concept from years ago when doctors would often make house calls and brought it into the 21st century. Their idea was to use a mobile van to go into the neighborhoods, offering residents medical testing and education on important health care topics.
"When I first started out, the machine to test for glucosamine was huge. But new technology makes it more portable," said Dr. Kevin Hinchey, Chief Education Officer at Baystate Health. "The technology helps us bring the doctor back to your neighborhood."
The challenges in serving underserved patients are complex. There is a strong distrust in certain communities based on history, such as the 40-year Tuskegee study ending in 1972 run by public health officials in Alabama where Black men were unknowingly not treated for syphilis.
Adding to the distrust is misinformation that spreads very quickly from conspiracy theories on topics like the safety of vaccines and the source of diseases, such as HIV/AIDs.
Beyond the mistrust, there are many other roadblocks for underserved communities to seek medical care.
It can also be so difficult to get to medical appointments when you take two or three buses, Dr. Hinchey said. And then, doctors would often take it as a sign of disrespect when the patient was late.
"With the mobile van, we can begin to earn their trust by being there physically for these communities," Dr. Hinchey said.
The mobile health clinic also provides important lessons for medical professionals
Baystate Health provides training for hundreds of nurses, medical students, pharmacists, and other health professional students every year.
By having staff and students work in the mobile clinic, they get first-hand experience dealing with an underserved patient population. It helps them gain a deeper understanding of the issues.
"We're training the next generation to work in these communities in a whole new way," Dr. Hinchey said.
The TD 2019 Ready Challenge grant focused on Better Health
TD's 2019 Ready Challenge grants focused on Better Health by supporting programs designed around preventative care and increasing equal access to health care, no matter a person's zip code or economic status.
"From our standpoint, this (Baystate's mobile clinic) would not have happened without TD," said Kelly Lamas, Baystate/Springfield Educational Partnership (BSEP) project coordinator. "We're really grateful to have the opportunity to be able to do something this exciting.
These grants are a key part of the bank’s corporate citizenship program, the TD Ready Commitment. This program allows the bank to play an active role in improving society in areas where it can have the greatest impact.
"TD Bank is honored to support Baystate Health and the organization's mobile health clinic which brings quality care, prevention and educational resources to our neighbors hardest hit by the pandemic," said Steve Webb, Regional President, Southern New England, TD Bank. "From the start of this innovative program, the Baystate team has shared TD's commitment to making a positive impact in the Springfield Massachusetts community.
Learn more about other TD 2019 Ready Challenge grant recipients:
COVID-19 made this program even more vital
The Baystate mobile clinic was scheduled to start making visits this year but those plans changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With stay-at-home orders, higher risks for seniors and those with pre-existing conditions, and the limited ability in many areas to get testing, the need for mobile health care is perhaps greater.
The mobile van's educational team participated in its first outreach event last month at the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services Food Justice Fair in Springfield. Other events included a visit to Edgewater Apartments, an affordable housing development for seniors in Springfield.
This is only the start of what both Baystate and TD Bank hope will be a successful program, helping to overcome health care barriers for underserved communities.
"I really believe we are going to make a difference, one step at a time," said Dr. Hinchey.