The Will County Health Department’s (WCHD) Community Health Center (CHC) is using its wheels. The CHC’s Mobile Medical Unit (which also operates as a Mobile Dental Unit) has joined with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) for a very special program of Coronavirus testing.
Now that Governor Pritzker’s office has provided testing kits for Community Health Centers throughout the state, the CHC’s mobile van can drive to high-risk community locations for COVID-19 testing that is processed through Illinois Department of Public Health laboratories.
“The Governor’s office and IDPH decided to partner with FQHCs (Federally Qualified Health Centers) like ours because of their connections to the communities and the resources they have, like our mobile unit,” said WCHD Executive Director Sue Olenek. “Congregate care settings innately have challenges because of the proximity of their residents, causing the risk of transmission to be higher. This includes nursing and assisted living homes, childcare sites, residential treatment facilities, and many more.”
For CHC Chief Executive Officer Mary Maragos, this is an example of exactly what their mobile unit is meant to do. “It increases access to care by bringing health services to those who cannot travel, or for whom transportation is a barrier. Taking the Mobile Medical Unit on important outings like this is a multidisciplinary team effort that takes a lot of organization, daily debriefing, and revisions as needed.
The unit’s first stop for this special COVID-19 testing effort was the Stepping Stones Treatment Center on Theodore Street in Joliet on April 28th.
WCHD Community Health Center staffers prepare for a day of Coronavirus testing on the road for employees and residents of Stepping Stones in Joliet on April 28th.
CHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Byrd says any type of testing being done on the road is more complicated than inside a medical office. “We have to make sure the site can accommodate our mobile unit when it comes to maneuverability and space to set up, as well as ensuring our healthcare workers are in an open air environment for safer testing. Plus, we need to ensure the hosting site can assist with patient scheduling and flow, and we need to make sure we have enough PPE (personal protective equipment) to keep this process going. We are excited to be involved in the fight against COVID-19 in this way, as this is the kind of work that community health centers are driven to do’’.
As the battle against Coronavirus continues, WCHD has plenty of hopes for the future beyond these scheduled congregate testing stops. Currently, testing for COVID-19 is not available at the Health Department and Community Health Center sites, but Olenek hopes that will change in the future. “Once a valid point-of-care test (meaning the result of the test can be known very soon, without having the sample sent away to a lab) for Coronavirus is available, we hope to have testing available here at the WCHD CHC for the general public,” Olenek explained. “We are just not sure when that will be.”
Maragos, meanwhile, has hopes that the CHC’s Mobile Medical Unit will have some additional services in the future, one in particular, when it visits those who have issues with mobility and transportation. “We certainly hope, one day, that the mobile unit will be able to go out and administer COVID-19 immunizations.”
For more information on Will County Health Department and Community Health Center programs, visit willcountyhealth.org.