South Charlotte

Cruiser puts health care in reach for those in need

Imagine having a sick child but no money or insurance for a visit to a doctor.

Or imagine your child is starting school this fall, but the average $350 price for the required kindergarten physical is completely out of reach.

That's where the Presbyterian Hospital's Community Care Cruiser comes in.

Since it first hit the road in November 2007, the mobile children's clinic has roamed the county, logging 5,513 patient visits, helping avoid 1,305 trips to the emergency room.

The staff also has administered more than 7,500 vaccines during the past 31/2years.

The cruiser is designed to serve children from birth to age 17 who are either uninsured or underinsured; but sometimes circumstances, and good judgment, dictate a little wiggle room.

"We ask that our patients not have insurance, but some have insurance and can't afford the co-pay," said Program Coordinator LeeAnne Broadway. "If they have Medicaid, we will send them to Medicaid physicians, but sometimes they can't get an appointment for a week and the child has a fever of 103. We see them."

The cruiser, funded through the Presbyterian Healthcare Foundation, is on the road at least 13 days each month, regularly visiting nine sites in three counties.

The host site, usually a church, provides a space for intake, a room for vision and hearing screening and access to a comfortable waiting area and bathroom facilities.

All examinations and treatments are done aboard the 40-foot specially equipped truck and trailer outfitted with two examination rooms and a small waiting area. The cruiser also holds a small pharmacy.

A staff of at least five travels to each site. The mobile outreach specialist drives the cruiser, triages the patients, performs vision and hearing screenings and more.

A social worker conducts a thorough psychological and social assessment on each family, offering referrals and other advice to help them get necessary resources they might have been unaware of. Sometimes families are given a bag full of necessities - socks, underwear, toiletries and more - and a referral to Loaves & Fishes.

A nurse and nurse practitioner work onboard the cruiser taking care of patients.

At least one Spanish interpreter is always present, and sometimes additional interpreters ride along depending on the area the cruiser will be serving.

Broadway often will work from the site to make sure everything runs smoothly. She also serves as a nurse if needed.

The cruiser averages eight to 10 patients a day, but when winter illnesses peak it may serve as many as 25 daily.

Tuesday's visit to Steele Creek AME Zion Church, a regular stop the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, brought in seven patients - a combination of sick and well visits. The first was a third-grader on her way to re-take an end-of-grade test, but first she needed medical attention for a knot on her head.

The girl's father brought her to the cruiser, having been referred through her school. He says the cruiser was a blessing for his daughter.

It turns out the girl had an infected hair follicle that required lancing, draining and a 10-day course of antibiotics.

While nurse practitioner Beth Dickerson worked on the child's head, nurse Elizabeth Keilhack offered the girl her hand to hold as tightly as needed.