Free health care: Healthmobile offers help to uninsured kids

Emily Dunne, 13, right, of Mesa, meets with Laura French, the pediatric nurse practitioner for Banner Children’s Healthmobile during a follow-up appointment in Apache Junction for an infection to her lip. The licensed outpatient treatment center provides free health care for uninsured and underinsured children. (Wendy Miller/Independent Newspapers)

Emily Dunne, 13, right, of Mesa, meets with Laura French, the pediatric nurse practitioner for Banner Children’s Healthmobile during a follow-up appointment in Apache Junction for an infection to her lip. The licensed outpatient treatment center provides free health care for uninsured and underinsured children. (Wendy Miller/Independent Newspapers)

Emily Dunne noticed some swelling on her top lip on a Friday night. Over the weekend, the affected site swelled to almost golf-ball size, she said, so the 13-year-old’s father, Matt Dunne, took her to a free clinic Monday to have it treated. The clinic was booked solid and he worried about what to do next, he said.

Mr. Dunne has few options for his daughter’s medical care. The single dad of three works in construction; he has little money left over at the end of the week after paying for his family’s necessities so he has no medical insurance, he said during an interview. He said he worried about where he would be able to get his daughter medical attention without insurance.

However, the nurse at Emily’s school told him about Banner Children’s Healthmobile, which treats uninsured and underinsured youth.
Mr. Dunne set up an appointment for Emily on Tuesday, when the mobile clinic would be in Apache Junction, just a few miles from his east Mesa home. Emily received the care she needed and one week and two follow-up visits later the swelling on her lip had subsided and she was smiling again.

“You can barely tell anything was there,” Laura French, pediatric nurse practitioner for the Healthmobile, said while examining the teenager’s face on her final visit.

“It hurt a lot but now it feels normal again,” Emily said during an interview.

The Banner Children’s Healthmobile is in San Tan Valley on Thursdays and Apache Junction on Tuesdays to serve uninsured and underinsured youth from newborn to age 21 (who are still in school) from across the Valley. They do not need to reside in the area where the mobile health care unit is located to receive its services. To schedule an appointment, call 480-412-6344. (Wendy Miller/Independent Newspapers)

The Banner Children’s Healthmobile is in San Tan Valley on Thursdays and Apache Junction on Tuesdays to serve uninsured and underinsured youth from newborn to age 21 (who are still in school) from across the Valley. They do not need to reside in the area where the mobile health care unit is located to receive its services. To schedule an appointment, call 480-412-6344. (Wendy Miller/Independent Newspapers)

What is the Healthmobile?

Emily is one of the 2,000 children who have been treated since the Healthmobile resumed service one year ago, on Oct. 13. The Banner Children’s Healthmobile is a licensed outpatient treatment center funded by the Banner Health Foundation that operates just like a mobile doctor’s office. It offers children up to 21 years of age — as long as they are still in school — treatment for health problems, physicals for camp or sports and routine annual check-ups, according to a press release.

Children from across the Valley can visit the mobile clinic, which is a licensed outpatient treatment center, for concerns ranging from earaches to neurological conditions. A parent or guardian must be present. The medical staff includes a nurse practitioner and a registered nurse who will help children and families learn about common health conditions and where they can find additional resources. The clinic will not provide OB/GYN services.

The service is free to uninsured and underinsured children. The only exceptions are children who are enrolled in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System and have been assigned a physician, Al Alarcon, a registered nurse with the Healthmobile, said.

Children who have a physician through AHCCCS cannot be treated at the Healthmobile except in two cases, Mr. Alarcon said. The two cases are: 1) children who have been enrolled in AHCCCS but who have not yet been assigned a physician, and 2) children who need a sports physical, which is not covered by the AHCCCS program.

The program does not pay for medications, Monica Gonzalez, a medical assistant and the final member of the three-person Healthmobile crew, said. However, the medical team tries to write prescriptions for generics and other medications that fall within the $4 prescriptions offered by many pharmacies, she said.

The mobile clinic complements Banner Health’s School-Based Health Centers, which have treated thousands of patients for free at Valley campuses, according to the release. Operating costs of the mobile clinic and school-based centers are covered solely through philanthropic support from individuals, corporations and foundations in the community.

Parents do not need to bring any documentation to receive services for their children, Ms. Gonzalez said.

“We are not funded by the state or federal agencies; if we were, we’d have to ask more questions of our patients. We don’t ask their Social Security number, about their income or citizenship. They do not have to show an I.D.,” Mr. Alarcon said.

Instead, parents are asked only for their contact information, some basic demographic information such as ethnicity, and their child’s medical history, he said. That information is updated annually, he said. Also, it helps to provide the child’s immunization record to make sure the child’s shots are current, he said.

Healthmobile locations
The Banner Children’s Healthmobile is available in the east Valley on the following days:
•10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays at Banner Goldfield Medical Center, 2050 W. Southern Ave. in Apache Junction.
•9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Thursdays at Banner Ironwood Medical Center, 37000 N. Gantzel Road in San Tan Valley.
•It also travels on Mondays to Buckeye Elementary School, 210 S. Sixth St. in Buckeye and on Wednesdays to Banner Health Center in the city of Maricopa, 17900 N. Porter Road.

Walk-ins are accepted at the mobile clinic, but reservations are preferred. Hours of operation may slightly vary from week to week. To make a reservation, call 480-412-6344.

Children do not have to reside in the cities in which the Healthmobile conducts health and wellness services. Their parents will be directed to the mobile clinic closest to their home, when possible, or to the unit in which the child can be seen the fastest in case the child is severely ill, Ms. French said.

“We don’t want people who are sick to be waiting. By all means, call the number,” Ms. Gonzalez said.

Ms. French said she has seen about 2,000 children during the last year with the Healthmobile, she said.

Appointments range in their duration from about 30 minutes for a specific illness exam to 45 minutes for a wellness check. During the latter, Ms. French conducts a full physical and will give her young patient any vaccinations he or she might need, she said. She will discuss health safety issues, such as sun damage, water safety, drugs and sex, as are appropriate for the patient.

Mateo Ayala, 4, of San Tan Valley raises his hand when he hears a tone during a wellness check being conducted by medical assistant Monica Gonzalez. (Wendy Miller/Independent Newspapers)

Mateo Ayala, 4, of San Tan Valley raises his hand when he hears a tone during a wellness check being conducted by medical assistant Monica Gonzalez. (Wendy Miller/Independent Newspapers)

Patients such as Mateo Ayala, 4, needed a wellness check to attend programs such as Head Start, Established in 1965, Head Start is a federally funded program that promotes school readiness for children in low-income families by offering educational, nutritional, health, social and other services, according to its website: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs.

A staff member at the Head Start in which Mateo was being enrolled recommended the Healthmobile to the youngster’s mother, Maria Mendez, Mrs. Mendez’s sister, Sonia Aguilera, told the Independent. Mrs. Mendez, who with her family just moved to San Tan Valley, speaks only Spanish and her sister often serves as an interpreter. Mr. Alarcon and Ms. Gonzalez speak fluent Spanish and are able to converse with their Spanish-speaking clients.

The Healthmobile crew hopes to spread the word about the services the mobile unit offers, Mr. Alarcon said. On the day of Mateo’s appointment, the team had six children scheduled for exams in San Tan Valley. Mr. Alarcon said he’d prefer that number to increase to 10 and ideally, 12.

“The information is being spread by word-of-mouth that we’re a safe place,” he said.

Banner Health would like to see more people use the Healthmobile on Tuesdays in Apache Junction, Megan Christopherson, children’s health and wellness senior manager for the health care company, said during an interview. If usage does not increase, she said, the health care company might consider relocating the Healthmobile to another city such as Casa Grande, she said.

Mr. Alarcon said he would hate to see that happen because there is so much need for the health care services in the east Valley.

Introduced in December, Apache Junction is the newest of the Healthmobile sites, Ms. French said.

“People don’t know we’re here,” she said.

People such as Mr. Dunne who have used the Healthmobile plan to use the program again.

“Emily got great care and it didn’t cost me anything,” Mr. Dunne said. “I’m thankful this is here.”

For more information about ways to support the School-Based Health Center program or the Banner Children’s Healthmobile, call Banner Health Foundation at 602-747-4483.

News Editor Wendy Miller can be contacted at 480-982-7799 and via e-mail at qcnews@newszap.com, or follow her on Twitter @WendyNewszap123.

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