Have health needs, will travel: ADHS delivers vaccines, tests to underserved communities

Apr 21, 2023, 7:00 PM

Sample tubes for COVID-19 testing are lined up at a Foundation for Senior Living facility in Phoeni...

Sample tubes for COVID-19 testing are lined up at a Foundation for Senior Living facility in Phoenix on March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paula Soria/Cronkite News)

(Photo by Paula Soria/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Even as COVID-19 levels decline, the Arizona Department of Health Services continues to deliver tests, vaccinations and other medical services to underserved, low-income communities across the state, according to health-equity officials.

Mobile vans, pop-up neighborhood clinics and even in-home services are ways to take health needs to communities where people don’t have access to services or can’t afford them, state health officials said of the continuing effort. Workers travel all over and end up in different environments; sometimes they may even end up at a potluck.

“Migrant communities in border towns, Arizona tribes, including urban indigenous communities, events at a number of faith-based communities, seniors and older adult communities, including in long-term and skilled nursing home settings,” have received COVID-19 vaccines, said Jessie Barbosa, the vaccine equity manager at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The clinics try to address a gap in who gets vaccines and tests, with vulnerable and underserved communities disproportionately affected during the height of the pandemic in 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also says people 65 and older are at higher risk for illness and death. A February study of disparities in Arizona found mixed results on how racial and ethnic populations fare now.

Advocates say medical-mobile programs offer convenience to people who have less access to health care – from doctors to hospitals to clinics close to home – and don’t own a car or don’t have efficient mass transit nearby in order to get help. It is also a temporary fix, available at specific times and places.

Across the country, about 3,000 mobile medical units travel to neighborhoods throughout the U.S., according to Mollie Willams, executive director of the Mobile Health Map, which provides a database where mobile clinics all over the country can post their information. Clinic operators can sign up and post data they have collected, such as funding, the type of medical care provided and the populations they serve, from veterans to LGBTQ people.

“Our goal in mobile health maps is to help those clinics measure and communicate their impact,” Williams said. “Mobile clinics really have an operating opportunity to get to people before they get sick and to promote health.”

She said operators of the van, based at the organization’s headquarters in Boston, have revealed patients’ health problems – clients who came in not knowing anything was wrong and then ended up at the hospital.

Siman Qaasim, a health-equity administrator for the state, said services are for everyone, including unhoused and incarcerated Arizona residents.

“Who we decided to center in the program are folks who just can’t walk into Walgreens and spend $15 to $20 for a take-home test,” Qaasim said.

For other Arizona residents who need a vaccination or test, “We definitely will help them access testing or vaccinations at a pharmacy partner or at a clinic near them,” Barbosa said. People can check the website for a tool to find vaccination and test sites.

Organizations can email and request pop-up clinics, and an ADHS task force sets up contracts with organizations, such as the Foundation for Senior Living, which provides senior housing and programs.

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Have health needs, will travel: ADHS delivers vaccines, tests to underserved communities