A mobile health unit will be making weekly stops at select Metro Transit stations to provide screenings, insurance help and other health care needs.
The People’s Health Centers, a community health clinic, operates the van, which made its first stop on Tuesday. It’s scheduled to rotate between Grand, Forest Park-Debaliviere, Civic Center and Riverview Transit stations. The city health department and Metro Transit will provide assistance to help operate and staff it.
The mobile unit is part of an effort to bring health care to people who live in transit-dependent areas in St. Louis. Transportation is cited as a major barrier to getting to the doctor, and many people without cars also have lower incomes and less access to health insurance.
People’s has already been using a mobile van to visit churches, parks and schools, but this is the first time it’s targeted transit centers.
The clinic, a retrofitted RV with a bedroom that has been converted into an exam room, offers limited medical services such as HIV screenings and blood pressure tests. It will largely help people deal with problems such as how to sign up for insurance coverage and where to find a doctor.
For example, van workers will help figure out what insurance plans would best suit a patient, help them find the necessary documents and help them apply for coverage.
Most people who visit the People’s Health Centers mobile clinics are uninsured, said Vickie Wade, a People’s vice president who supervises the mobile unit.
“Most of them don’t have insurance, a lot are recently unemployed,” she said. “They don’t know how to apply for their insurance. For them, it’s education, because it’s all new to them.”
She said People’s Health Centers is one of several federally qualified health centers in the metro area. Such clinics are required to offer primary care to people of all ages and income levels, regardless of their ability to pay or their insurance status. The clinic’s workers aim to teach patients about where they are, what they do and how to get there.
The mobile health unit doesn’t aim to replace clinics, said John Wagner, director of the research institute at Bi-State Development, which runs Metro Transit. It’s just an entry point into access to primary care,” Wagner said.
Without primary care physicians or insurance coverage, many people end up foregoing doctor’s visits until an emergency happens, then going to an ER, said Steve Estopare, who oversees several departments at the St. Louis Department of Health.
“This allows them to find true home of health care … rather than going to an emergency room whenever they’re injured or feeling bad,” Estopare said. “We’ll connect them to insurance and that will get the ball rolling.”
Public transit is a natural fit for outreach, Wagner said.. The areas of St. Louis where people use hospital emergency rooms the most line up with the parts of the city where the people are the most transit-dependent, according to Bi-State Development data.
“One of the things that this does is reach the people where they are, when they’re going in the hustle bustle of their day," Wade said. “They’re not necessarily sick right now, they’re not at the emergency room, so it’s a good time to introduce them to information.”
The St. Louis County Health Department runs a similar program, which brings a larger mobile unit to stations in north St. Louis and St. Louis County, where there are few health care centers.
Wagner said the van’s stops were decided based on how much traffic the stations receive. The services are free and don’t require insurance or an appointment.
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