Nobody knows the need for healthcare among Safe Point’s clients better than the program’s outreach coordinator. Since July 19, at least 36 people who take advantage of Safe Point’s syringe exchange program have also received care on the MOVe.
“The people who come to Safe Point are hesitant to go to a doctor’s office or the emergency room. They would much rather try to care for themselves than walk into large-scale medical facilities where they face stigma,” said Onzima.
Along with Safe Point in Columbus, the 38-foot MOVe medical center now travels to Portsmouth and Lima. A stop in Mansfield will be added in the future. People can get primary care, HIV care and prevention, gender-affirming care, same-day sick care, COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, and more. Recently, the MOVe has provided the mpox (MPX) vaccine, when available, at various events and locations.
“The goal is to do anything on the MOVe that you can do in one of our medical centers,” said La’Kia Singleton, Equitas Health’s interim senior director of healthcare operations. She is one of two rapid response nurse practitioners who travel with the MOVe clinic.
“For many, the first time they see a doctor is in the emergency room. It’s vital to reach people before they get to the point of needing a trauma center,” said Singleton.
People who use drugs often avoid doctors’ offices due to stigma. Members of the LGBTQ+ community put off care for fear of judgement. Many small communities lack doctors who can provide gender-affirming care or treat infectious diseases like HIV.
The MOVe’s visits to our offices in Lima and Portsmouth will make it easy for people who already come for HIV or STI testing to access primary care or HIV treatment. The nurse practitioners can write prescriptions, give out meds, and link patients to other Equitas Health services.
“This is a game-changer for us. We are in Appalachia. A lot of people here are terrified to go to a doctor,” said Aaron Wamsley. He is the Southeastern prevention program manager at the Portsmouth office. “They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” he said.
Equitas Health clients in Portsmouth need ongoing HIV care and treatment for infections. Those who test positive for HIV have to travel 30 to 40 minutes to see a doctor. The closest infectious disease doctor doesn’t take patients living with HIV.
The MOVe Medical Center will be in Portsmouth two days a month. People can visit in the morning at the Equitas Health office or in the afternoon at the SRPS Syringe Exchange Program. Wamsley said clients will come because they trust the Equitas Health name and the people who work there.
“People can expect to get dignified care on the MOVe. It doesn’t matter who you are, everyone deserves care,” said Mike Frost, a rapid response nurse practitioner. He travels with the MOVe Medical Center to Safe Point, Portsmouth, and Lima.
“I am excited about reaching the people who cannot get to our brick-and-mortar medical centers. It’s why I wanted to do this,” said Frost. He has worked at the King-Lincoln Medical Center since 2019.
Patients don’t need an appointment for the MOVe. All patients are welcome, regardless of their ability to pay. Equitas Health accepts Medicaid, Medicare, Ryan White, and most major private insurance plans.
A medical assistant, financial counselor, and driver also travel with the MOVe. The clinic has two exam rooms, a lab, bathroom, and waiting area. A state-of-the-art wheelchair lift provides additional access to the vehicle.
During a test run before the MOVe’s official launch, driver Jennifer Carroll proudly showed visitors the vehicle’s control panel. Carroll gets the mobile medical center ready for use. She lets out the awning, turns on the generator, and opens the slide out for the mobile lab. The driver’s area then turns into one of two exam rooms divided by sliding doors. The other is at the back of the vehicle.
The MOVe Medical Center is the largest of the three vehicles in Equitas Health’s mobile fleet. The MOVe Sexual Health Clinic and Prevention Clinic vans provide HIV/STI testing and prevention care. Equitas Health will add a fourth vehicle to the MOVe fleet soon.
“The MOVe Medical Center is desperately needed, especially for gender-affirming care,” said CJ O’Bryan, the MOVe fleet coordinator.
Many small towns do not have doctors who will work with people of trans experience. “To be able to go out and help someone feel like a real person again means everything. It’s life-changing,” said O’Bryan.
A study of Ohio zip codes helped determine where the MOVe Medical Center would travel, said O’Bryan. Lima, Portsmouth, and Mansfield were some of the places with gaps in care according to the study. In addition to these locations, the MOVe will also be at Pride events, wellness fairs, and other community events.
“Comprehensive and affirming healthcare should not depend on your zip code,” said Robert Copeland, Equitas Health’s interim CEO. “We know the disparities that exist in the communities we serve. So, if they can’t come to us, we will come to them.”
Those who come to Safe Point for new syringes, Narcan, and other supplies often have no stable housing and lack access to clean water, food, and basic hygiene needs.
During the MOVe medical center’s first visit in July, a client received treatment for a severe infection. The nurse practitioner also learned the man was diabetic, needed fluids, and hadn’t eaten in 24 hours. He would have faced a medical emergency without the mobile medical center that night.
“We have women who need reproductive care. We have people who need STI testing. We have people with serious wounds and infections. I have seen things go untreated and people die. It means everything for the MOVe Medical Center to be here,” said Onzima.
See the schedule for all of our Mobile Outreach Vehicles at equitashealth.com/onthemove.