March 19, 2015 |

Friday Think: a “clinic on wheels” packs a punch at poverty

When a doc and a sheriff with a penchant for heat maps noticed some disturbing trends, they decided to do something about it.
A Gainesville doctor has been tracking birth rates to ZIP codes and noticed some health trends.
After a Gainesville doctor tracked birth rates to ZIP codes, she started noticing some disturbing health trends. Map: Census Block Group and University of Southern Florida.

When Gainesville, Florida, doctor Nancy Hardt and Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell first met, they had an unusual “aha” moment. Both had been mapping out the same area in Gainesville, only for different reasons: high crime rates and poverty birth rates.

A colleague suggested they meet and compare maps. What they saw was an area or “hotspot” that both maps shared. It was enough to launch them into action.

“We kind of blinked at each other,” Hardt says. “And—simultaneously—we said, ‘We’ve got to do something.'”

Here’s an excerpt from Laura Starecheski’s story that aired on NPR‘s public health blog Shots.

"Clinic on wheels" bus parked at an apartment complex.
Dr. Nancy Hardt’s free “clinic on wheels,” gets about 5,000 visits from patients each year. Photo: Bryan Thomas for NPR.

The hotspot is dotted with isolated, crowded apartment complexes with names like Majestic Oaks and Holly Heights. The first time she visited, on a ride-along with Sheriff Darnell’s deputies, Hardt tallied up all things that make it hard for kids here to grow up healthy.

And there were quite a few things Dr. Hardt noticed: substandard housing, hunger, and a lack of medical care services for the uninsured. The story continues:

She mapped it out and determined that the closest place to get routine medical care if you’re uninsured — which many people here are — is the county health department. It’s almost a two-hour trip away by bus. Each way.

The “clinic on wheels” first made it out to the hotspot in 2010, parking right inside one apartment complex there. Patients could walk in without an appointment and get treatment free of charge, approximating the experience of a house call. Today, the mobile clinic gets an average of 5,000 visits from patients per year, in under-served areas all over Gainesville.

You can listen to this story or read the transcript in its entirety at NPR.org.

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Each week, we scour the news for the hottest stories on innovation. Our weekly feature, The Friday Think, highlights one we’ve found particularly fascinating.

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  • Portrait of Tracy Romoser. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.
    Tracy Romoser is a communications officer and the blog editor at PATH.