Greenbelt, Md.—The Governor's Wellmobile Program, a fleet of four 33-foot long vans equipped as traveling health clinics, opened its newest location March 9 at the Springhill Lake Elementary School in Greenbelt, Md. The clinic plans to offer services to uninsured members of the community from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. the second and fourth Monday of every month.
The Wellmobile is run by the University of Maryland School of Nursing and operates on a combination of public and private funding. It uses family nurse practitioners to provide free primary health care services and social service referrals for uninsured and underinsured populations in Central Maryland, Western Maryland, and along the Eastern Shore. In 2008 alone, the program handled 7,514 patient visits, 45,084 case management and follow-up encounters, and helped hundreds of families apply for MCHP. As the recession penetrates deeper into the economy and layoffs deprive more and more families of their health coverage, the Wellmobile has become a crucial safety net for the most vulnerable.
“There is a demonstrated demand for Wellmobile services in Greenbelt,” said Rebecca Wiseman, PhD, RN, director of the Wellmobile Program and an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. “Many of these families were already vulnerable before the economic downturn; stepping in now is imperative if we want to avoid disastrous consequences.”
A December 2008 needs assessment revealed that nearly 40 percent of Greenbelt residents had no regular medical care due to lack of insurance, a scarcity of providers, and transportation barriers. The study, which was conducted by Bowie State University School of Nursing and the University of Maryland School of Social Work, recommended mobile health screening and support services as a solution. The Wellmobile fit the bill because it is mobile, designed to cope with the range of health-related needs encountered by low-income households, and has the multi-lingual staff that can best assist the area's diverse Spanish and French speaking populations.
The Wellmobile is being introduced in Greenbelt as an integral part of the city's Backpack to Health Campaign, which uses students' backpacks as a vehicle to deliver information on health and wellness activities to their families. The new site will cater primarily to the 10,000 plus residents of the Empirian Village apartment complex in which the Springhill Lake Elementary school is located. As much as 70 percent of the children attending the school have household incomes at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty line, which is $39,220 for a family of four. More than half of residents who responded to the assessment survey said they suffered chronic health problems. But because 68 percent of adults and 35 percent of children lack insurance, the emergency room tended to be the primary source of care.
“The Wellmobile will make a significant difference in the lives of many residents,” said Christal Batey, Greenbelt's Community Resource Advocate and a driving force behind the Backpack to Health Campaign. “None of this would have been possible without the support of our community partners,” she added, acknowledging the network of educational, medical, and social service groups that are working together to offer assistance through the Wellmobile.
“If you're looking for a ‘shovel-ready project,' this is it!” said Frances Phillips, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “The Wellmobile is a wonderful model and I'd love to see 200 more of them in locations throughout Maryland.”
For more information about the Governor's Wellmobile Program, contact Dr. Rebecca Wiseman, 410-706-5395.