The mission of Clemson University’s new mobile health clinic is to improve the health of the underserved community while providing a teaching experience for public health students.
But as “the world’s first 100-percent solar powered clinic,” it’s also tasked with improving the environment.
The specially designed 23-by-16-foot truck is outfitted with eight solar panels on the roof that charge the entire clinic, eliminating polluting exhaust fumes and noise, said health extension agent Logan McFall.
“It’s one of the only ones in the world like it now,” he told The Greenville News. “It recharges on its own and you can run it for several days.”
Emblazoned with the iconic Clemson tiger and the school’s orange and purple colors, it’s the mobile arm of Clemson’s Joseph L. Sullivan health care center, said center director Paula Watt.
Staffed with nurse practitioners, registered nurses and other health care providers, the clinic travels from town to town throughout the Upstate caring for the region’s low-income residents.
Most are the working poor — many who have two or three low-paying jobs that don’t offer health insurance, Watt said. Patients, more than half of whom are women, range from children to adults.
“At least half of them have not been seen in a long time,” she said. “It’s been five or 10 years, or since they had their last baby.”
They’re seen for chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes, vaccinations, health education and more.
Students and patients
On a recent day, the clinic provided breast cancer screenings in the parking lot of Greenville Radiology, where patients were also scheduled for mammograms.
The unit also serves as an educational element for public health science students and sometimes language arts students who serve as interpreters, Watt said.
“We are an arm for the college,” she said. “And we are trying to teach our students to understand underserved populations.”
Both students and patients appreciate what it has to offer, she said.
With a slide-out that enlarges the space significantly, the modular interior can range from one big room for educational events to seven smaller ones, including exam rooms, check-in rooms and lab, McFall said.
Manufactured by Wyoming-based Odulair, which custom designs mobile clinics for use around the world, the Clemson unit is equipped with portable exam chairs that convert to tables, Watt said. And the walls have sound-absorbing panels to ensure privacy.
The mobile unit is capable of doing many of the same things that can be done at the stationary clinic, such as blood tests and urinalysis, she said.
The clinic now serves Greenville, Pickens, Anderson and Oconee counties, and will expand to Spartanburg County next month, Watt said. But it’s also traveled to other parts of the state to serve other vulnerable populations, such as migrant farm workers and people affected by floods.
‘Dream come true’
Since it’s a mobile clinic, staff also work to link patients with a primary care provider in their communities for ongoing care, she said.
“We try to help them as much as we can on site,” she said. “But we fill gaps.”
The truck, which runs on diesel fuel, is four-wheel drive so it can handle a variety of terrains, McFall said. And it can be charged even on cloudy days, he said.
It operates three to four days a week.
Last year, the Sullivan Center logged more than 8,000 encounters, about a third on the mobile clinic, she said.
The center is supported by a variety of sources including Clemson, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Best Chance Network, the state Department of Health and Human Services, the South Carolina Primary Health Care Association, the South Carolina Free Clinic Association, and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, and some patients, Watt said.
The mobile clinic was made possible by state support led by Sen. Thomas Alexander (R-Walhalla), Watt said.
The Sullivan Center has been operating for 30 years and has gone through two other mobile clinics in the past two decades, she said.
But the new one is the first that’s solar-powered, and she calls it “a dream come true.”
To contact the mobile health clinic, go to https://www.clemson.edu/cbshs/centers-institutes/sullivan/ or call 864-656-3076.
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