For more than a quarter century, the Visiting Nurse Association of the Treasure Coast’s Mobile Clinic has offered an alternative to pricey urgent care and hospital emergency department visits, and the service is more popular than ever with 4,000 patients seen over the past year, right in their own neighborhoods.
The nonprofit VNA received $350,000 in 2022 from the Indian River County Hospital District. That’s more than half their funding, according to Liz Adams, VNA’s community health services director. Other funding comes from the VNA Foundation, John’s Island Foundation and individual contributions.
Adams took time out from assisting patients at a busy mobile clinic in the parking lot of the VNA’s main campus to provide a snapshot of operations.
“I feel we catch those people who fall through the cracks of the healthcare system,” she said. “We reach people in need who have nowhere else to turn to.”
In an average month the clinic sees 150 to 300 patients. That includes annual and sports physical exams and health screenings for blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol.
The mobile clinic operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays at various sites.
On Mondays and Fridays, the VNA team sets up shop at the Vero Beach Walmart. On Tuesdays, the Sebastian Walmart is the venue for the clinic. On Wednesdays the clinic heads to St. Vincent DePaul Thrift Shop on C.R. 510 and on Thursdays it ventures out to Fellsmere. The schedule shifts due to holidays, so it’s best to double-check the days and times at www.vnatc.com.
To get the word out about the mobile clinic and the services it offers, the VNA distributes flyers in schools, church groups, unincorporated areas, the United Against Poverty Center and in newspaper circulars.
Memory Semprevivo, 38, a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her children, waited patiently to see a nurse practitioner because her 12-year-old son, Giovani, woke up with an ear infection. Semprevivo’s family has a primary care doctor, but he was booked up.
She turned to the mobile clinic, despite having health insurance through her husband Joseph’s employer, Indian River State College.
Semprevivo has been coming to the mobile clinic for three years after hearing about it through friends. Yet she has no intention of giving up her primary care doctor.
“Having the clinic gives me an option for more flexibility. And having my doctor gives me one more choice. I’d say the mobile clinic is the best-kept secret in Indian River County,” she said.
Angelica Ramirez waited her turn in her vehicle to access care for her 7-year-old son Leamsil, who was running a fever and, she suspected, had some type of infection. Ramirez has been coming to the clinic for 15 years. She once had employer-provided health benefits, doesn’t offer them.
“I look at the Internet to see where the clinic is stopping, “ she said. “Sometimes I’ll go to the Sebastian Walmart. They have it posted every day. I’m happy with the care here, 100 percent. I’d recommend it to friends.”
Ann Marie McCrystal, who served as a Hospital District trustee for 7 ½ years, was a co-founder of VNA and former nurse administrator. She characterized the mobile clinic as an invaluable tool for the community.
“It’s for working people who can’t get to the doctor or have very limited time,” McCrystal said. “The mobile clinic is positioned throughout Indian River County for working people who can’t take time off work.”
She also noted the clinic is a tool that can treat acute symptoms which can help avoid the need to visit the ER. “But the mobile clinic is also a resource to find out where to go for further treatment if it is needed,” she said.
Of the 4,000 patients seen through the mobile clinic so far in the 2022-23 fiscal year, 3,000 of those required a diagnosis and treatment, recalled registered nurse and VNA Senior Special Projects Director Patricia Knipper.
VNA CEO Lundy Fields said today’s young professionals reared in the digital age have higher expectations and would prefer to dispense with outdated HMOs and their restrictions, making the clinic more attractive.
“They want to know what technology can do for them,” he said. “Can I get remote care? Is there an app I can use? Can I make appointments at 8 a.m. or 7 p.m.? They look more for convenience. And I think our mobile home health clinic will adapt well to the new environment.”
On top of a lack of access to treatment from a primary care physician, many mobile clinic patients recently have faced housing and food insecurity.
“So, for the past year, we’ve seen numerous uninsured or insured who can’t afford copays or go to urgent care centers and do not want to resort to the emergency room,” said Knipper.
Based on studies Adams and Knipper completed, 60 percent to 70 percent of mobile clinic patients are uninsured. “It costs $1,000 minimum to visit the ER,” said Adams.
“We charge $20 for a physical and $30 for a sports exam. For a sick visit, it costs $5,” she said. “Occasionally, someone cannot afford that amount. And once we had a client who handed us a debit card and it only had $4 left on it. We declined to take his remaining balance.”
The mobile clinic’s outreach program also brings care to seniors living at Orange Blossom Village Apartments and St. Francis Manor.
“We see ourselves as a bridge between the patient and other healthcare facilities,” said Knipper. “We encourage patients to follow up on care but can notensure they go. But we continue to find ways to work with the Indian River County Hospital District.”
Photos by Joshua Kodis and provided