For the experienced patient, a visual acuity test—or what’s thought of as a basic eye exam—is a pretty straight forward procedure. You stand where the doctor or nurse asks you to. Then, you’re told to begin reading random letters of varying sizes on a chart, one eye at a time.
But if you’ve never had an eye exam before—the chart can look like a confusing mess of alphabet soup. You maybe wouldn’t know which side of the chart to begin from, or whether or not you’re supposed to read the letters individually or to try and form words. These mix-ups are not uncommon at mobile health and wellness clinic events, which aim to reach the state’s most under-resourced and under-served residents.
According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 12 percent of Colorado adults reported not seeing a doctor in the past year because of cost in 2016, the latest data available.
Healthcare can feel out of reach for people who are cost-burdened, work odd hours, or don't have insurance. A lack of child care, transportation or an established relationship with a doctor are other barriers that can get in the way.
The solution? Bring healthcare to the people.
Nearly 30 area residents received services at the health and wellness clinic at Paloma Villas. Jessica Mendoza, 27, said she attended the clinic because hasn't had a general health exam in a long time and only tends to seek medical attention when she falls very ill.
Education is another core aspect of the health and wellness clinic. A table with resources—such as a visual display showing how much sugar is in a bottle of soda or juice compared to other beverages—is there for patients to learn about and utilize in personal decisions about their health.
High blood pressure and diabetes in particular are two conditions that the clinic works to address because they are silent killers, said Stephanie Salazar-Rodriguez, MNM, regional health connector for the Mile High Health Alliance.
“You can have a stroke or a heart attack without ever knowing that you were at risk,” she said. “Through prevention and early intervention we can really move the needle.”
More than 90 million Americans have high blood pressure or diabetes. Although these conditions can affect anyone, Latinos and African Americans have a greater risk of developing them, said Salazar-Rodriguez.
It’s common for these conditions to be diagnosed together—which can be a lethal combination if uncontrolled.
“It’s like gold for us to know that the services we provide are saving lives,” said Susana Arreola Ponce de Leon, the community program manager of CREA Results.
Helping people without a medical home
Last year, the health and wellness clinic helped 1,500 people at 122 events across Colorado, said Arreola Ponce de Leon.
Patients not only receive health screenings—they are connected with a federally qualified local, brick and mortar clinic, if needed. A health coach—either a nurse or a doctor—calls patients that require follow up care around two months later to ensure they are staying on track.
“When you understand your numbers, it gives everything a whole new meaning. You’re more aware and more conscious about the decisions you’re making for your health,” said Arreola Ponce de Leon.
Being healthy is also the foundation that makes achieving other goals possible—such as holding a steady job or attaining education, said Lauren Ruth, a MWHS resident services coordinator.
Ruth serves as the MWHS representative on the Southwest Denver Coalition, a collective of a non-profits and organizations that share resources and collaborate on community events. That’s where Ruth connected with the Mile High Health Alliance, which was looking for a Westwood location to host a health and wellness clinic.
“I jumped at the chance to have it at Paloma Villas,” Ruth said. “Because of the relationships we have with several other organizations along Morrison Road, I knew that if we collaborated together we’d be able to make it a really successful event.”
Collaboration, Salazar-Rodriguez says, is the hallmark of successful public health initiatives like the mobile health and wellness clinic. These are just a few of the organizations that made the event possible:
- The Mile High Health Alliance works with medical and behavioral health providers, public health organizations and social and community services, to collaboratively address people that are falling through the cracks of the healthcare system.
- CREA Results, a grassroots organization of community health workers based in Wheat Ridge who tackle health disparities and environmental poverty. The community health workers at the event are the bridge between the patient and the medical care provider and provide follow up services after the mobile health events if needed.
- United States-Mexico Border Health Commission, through a partnership with CREA Results, provides the van. The health and wellness clinic that appeared at Paloma is one of 13 vans that provide similar services to communities in the United States.
- The University of Colorado College of Nursing provides student nurses who, under the supervision of a licensed nursing instructor, receive public health field hours that apply toward their degrees.
- Porter Adventist Hospital provided grant money to help fund the medical supplies needed for the event.
Ruth said events like the health and wellness clinic are just one example of how MWHS aims to connect people with life-changing services and resources.
“I think a big part of resident services program at MWHS is to bring resources to the community that can help level the playing field in terms of education and access to services,” Ruth said. “The health van is certainly part of that, but it also includes financial literacy classes, English as a second language classes, technology classes, youth activities and more.”
Megan Schmidt is a staff writer at Metro West Housing Solutions.