For the past three years, DMU students have visited homeless camps along the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, bringing warm clothes, hot coffee, batteries and other simple necessities every Sunday morning.
Since May, the students are able to offer another necessity – basic medical services – using the Des Moines University Mobile Health Clinic.
“I think the trust that we’ve built up [with the homeless population] has been critical,” says Sikandar Khan, a DMU osteopathic medicine student and president of the University’s Homeless Camp Outreach. With more than 70 student volunteers, the group has spent more than 1,200 person-hours at the camps, with a mission of helping the homeless reconnect with society.
The mobile clinic, a 38-foot customized Winnebago motor home, is equipped with two complete medical examination rooms: one in the rear equipped with a wheelchair ramp and one at the front of the vehicle. Patients enter a small waiting area, equipped with a bathroom, in the center of the vehicle.
“In the past, we have referred health conditions we have seen to primary care physicians,” Khan says. “But now with the mobile clinic, and using the trust we’ve built, we will be able to provide this adjunct service. So we can say, ‘The mobile clinic is at this location; can we help you get over there?’”
The inspiration for the program came from a mobile clinic that Kendall Reed, D.O., FACOS, FACS, DMU’s dean of osteopathic medicine, saw during a visit to San Diego. Two federal earmarks, each approximately $190,000, were used to purchase and equip the motor home and to pay for operating costs for the initial two years.
“What we want to do is add the medical component to [the outreach] the students have been doing,” Reed says. “And this will be operated year-round, not just during the pretty months of spring.”
The mobile clinic program is a partnership between DMU, which owns and maintains the motor home, and the Free Clinics of Iowa. Reed serves as medical director of the mobile clinic when it’s on its homeless missions.
The mobile clinic will also be used to augment the services of Grace United Methodist Free Clinic, one of 29 free clinics across the state operated by the nonprofit organization.
“We’ll be using these two clinics as a trial run for the mobile clinic,” says Karen McLean, Ph.D., DMU’s provost. “Once we feel we have it all nailed, we can expand the program. It would be my hope that once we’re established, we will be using this vehicle every single day.”
The mobile clinic will also play an important educational goal. By partnering with the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) in Iowa, the vehicle will be used to expose students from kindergarten through college age to the world of medicine and health-care careers. AHEC’s goal is to improve the availability and quality of health care in the state’s rural and underserved areas.
“We’ll be able to pull up into a school parking lot and show kids, homeless reconnect with society. ‘Here’s what you can do in health care,’” Reed says. “So it’s multipurpose in its functions.”
Article by Joe Gardyasz; excerpted by permission of The Des Moines Business Record.