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Mobile Care Chicago: Hitting the Road for Health 

Mobile Care Chicago: Hitting the Road for Health 

Photo above: Courtesy of Mobile Care Chicago

By Megy Karydes

Healthcare in a van? Many low-income children and families in Chicago get just that—high-quality, no-cost medical care through mobile clinics on wheels.

For the city’s families in need, healthcare is not as easy as a call to a regular pediatrician. Mobile Care Chicago reaches kids who otherwise might not make it into the doctor’s office. This solution provides convenient, medical, dental and asthma care, thereby decreasing unnecessary emergency room visits.

Several mobile vans cruise the city, offering children at 73 schools access to a variety of medical care specialties five days a week on a rotating basis, says Tim Egan, president and CEO of Mobile Care Chicago.

“You need to be able to reach these kids where they live, go to school, play and worship because they have a lack of access to appropriate primary care services,” Egan says. “I hate to use the cliché, but you literally have to roll over these barriers.”

Mobile Care Chicago offers a medical van that provides primary care services, two asthma/allergy vans and two dental vans. The service provides healthcare to more than 6,000 children per year.

The program is working. Egan shares some figures from a partnership he created with Roseland Community Hospital on the city’s Far South Side. “[Through] our work, we’ve been able to lower emergency department utilization by pediatric patients at Roseland by 65 percent,” he says. “We have a direct connection where [our work has helped to] lower school absenteeism by 67 percent.”

Egan feels that if he can reach children in a mobile primary care setting, he’s going to catch them before they get abscessed teeth or undiagnosed asthma and get them into proper surveillance programs. “Most of these kids don’t belong in the emergency department,” he says.

He cites residual benefits to the community from the mobile care vans: Children do better in school, because they’re healthier and can avoid missing school due to illness or asthma.

Egan is hoping to add another dental van to his fleet in 2016 and, eventually, grow from Mobile Care Chicago to Mobile Care Illinois in order to offer services to the entire state.

Access to Care: Serving the Uninsured and Underinsured

Access to Care began in 1988 to help uninsured suburbanites and those in northwest Chicago access affordable healthcare.

“We’re a delivery system,” says Katie Barnickel, spokesperson for Access to Care. “Access to Care is a primary healthcare program for low-income uninsured and underinsured residents of suburban Cook County. Even after Obamacare, people still need help.”

The program helps keep patients out of the emergency room by connecting them with community-minded physicians who help with their primary healthcare needs.

“You have a cold, flu; hurt your hand? You can see your primary care physician rather than using the emergency room or not getting care at all,” Barnickel says.

The program is supported and funded by the Cook County Health and Hospital System as well as by foundations, townships, municipalities and individuals. As a result, it’s able to secure deep discounts for services including the doctors. The program pays the physicians $68 per patient per year. Barnickel says that the program could not exist without the generosity of the physicians. It is the doctors’ way of giving back to the community in which they practice.

Each physician agrees to see a certain number of patients (minimum of five), and patients must apply and pay an annual enrollment fee, which ranges from $20 to $50. Once admitted into the program, visits to an assigned doctor cost $5, and prescription medication ranges from $15 for generics to $40 for a nonpreferred brand not on the approved list.

The Affordable Care Act has been beneficial to some patients, Barnickel says. “Prior to the ACA, childless adults were not eligible for health benefits under Medicaid. [That demographic] accounted for 70 percent of our patients. That has changed since the ACA was enacted because now benefits are based strictly on income and immigration status.”

Today, the nonprofit healthcare program continues to serve individuals who are not eligible for public health programs such as CountyCare, All Kids, Medicaid or Medicare.

It’s estimated that almost 400,000 individuals living in suburban Cook County and northwest Chicago are without health insurance. This year alone, Barnickel says, Access to Care will connect 5,000 patients with primary healthcare providers. To date, it has served more than 100,000 patients.

Originally published in the Spring 2016 print edition.

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