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Wellmobile brings services to uninsured

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Photo by Ben Swartz. Eleanor Roosevelt High School senior Sandra Rico gets her blood pressure taken by Russell Harris.

Photo by Ben Swartz. Eleanor Roosevelt High School senior Sandra Rico gets her blood pressure taken by Russell Harris.

Published on: Wednesday, March 11, 2009

By Ben Swartz

For the uninsured citizens of Greenbelt, help came rolling in on Monday when a 33-foot mobile health clinic parked right out back of Spring Hill Lake Elementary School, and opened its doors to the public.

The clinic is part of the Governor’s Wellmobile Program, a convoy of four mobile treatment centers operated by the University of Maryland’s School of Nursing and designed to provide support for children, families and individuals who have no other access to affordable medical treatment.

The Wellmobile will be at the school on the second and fourth Monday of every month, open from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. While there, the staff can perform physicals, write referrals, prescribe medication and carry out a variety of other medical duties. Patients can either make appointments, or just walk in.

“I’m very excited,” said Greenbelt Mayor Judith Davis. “We know that there are a lot of families here that do not have health insurance. We know they’re hardworking families, they want to take care of their kids and yet, often if it’s a serious illness they end up in the emergency room.”

Cutting down on emergency room visits is one of the major benefits of the Wellmobile, said program director Rebecca Wiseman. Last year the Wellmobile’s staff conducted exit interviews, asking patients where they would have gone if the wellmobile hadn’t been available. Eighty percent of those interviewed said they would’ve gone to the emergency room, Wiseman said.

Once the numbers had been crunched Wiseman concluded that the Wellmobiles had saved close to $2.7 million in emergency room bills in 2008.

The Wellmobile is also part of Greenbelt’s backpack to health campaign, a program focused on providing children and families with various health programs free of charge. The Wellmobile is only one facet of the backpack to health campaign, said Christal Batey, Greenbelt community resource advocate. Nutrition classes, fitness programs, produce distributions and an array of other services will be available at the school through the program, Batey said.

“It’s a whole bunch of things, we want to make it exciting and interactive. We don’t just want to send a whole lot of paper coming home, we want to give them opportunities,” Batey said. “But the key thing is it’s all free.”

But while the Wellmobile may be only one facet of the project, the services it provides remains the cornerstone of the backpack to health campaign, said Batey.

Four individuals staff the wellmobile: a nurse practitioner, a social worker, a community outreach specialist and a driver. Each has their own job to do and then some. At any moment any one of the four may be filing, taking appointments, administering exams or any number of other tasks that fall upon them.

“I do a little bit of everything,” said Vanessa Roberts, the wellmobile’s multilingual community outreach specialist, as she administered an eye exam to Marianna Rico, 14, while driver Russell Harris took the blood pressure of Marianne’s older sister Sandra, 18.

“We don’t have health insurance,” said the Eleanor Roosevelt High School senior. “So this is the only opportunity we have to really get checked out.”

The plight of the Rico sisters is not unique, Spring Hill Lake Elementary was specifically chosen because of the low number of uninsured individuals living in neighboring apartment complexes, a number that may rise in the coming months as a result of the economic downturn.

“A lot of our families just can’t afford health insurance,” said Spring Hill Elementary Principal Linda Sherwood. “And the way this project is helping is just wonderful.”

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