The new mobile health clinic was made possible by state support led by South Carolina Senator Thomas Alexander. Alexander regularly champions outreach and access to care for underserved populations, and he said he hopes the Sullivan Center can become the model for other organizations that wish to pursue the evolution of health care through the empowerment of individuals.
Alexander made clear that support given to the Sullivan Center was based on its track record of service and its longstanding emphasis on the importance of access to care. He feels that mobile clinics will continue to provide evidence-based data that proves they are an essential component of effective health care in areas of the state that are often underserved. “It’s critical that the state make it possible for organizations like the Sullivan Center to bring health care to folks who need it most,” Alexander said. “The state should support any mission that leads to better health outcomes, and the preventative and educational components provided by mobile clinics have proven time and again to do just that.”
According to the Mobile Health Map, a research network composed of organizations that run mobile health clinics, there are an estimated 2,000 mobile clinics located across the country. Data from many of those clinics reveals that mobile clinics provide accessible care at a cheaper cost to health care systems than emergency department visits; the group estimates that each mobile clinic results in 600 fewer emergency department visits every year.
Mobile clinics serve mostly uninsured, minority populations in both rural and urban areas. On average, mobile clinics save 65 quality-adjusted years of life during every year of operation. Each patient served saves an average of $1,600 in health care-related costs due to health education and prevention.
The patients aren’t the only ones benefitting. Health care systems enjoy more “bang for their buck” with mobile clinics. The Mobile Health Map reports that an analysis on return on investment for mobile clinics shows that for every $1 spent, organizations save $12. Jennifer Bennet, co-founder and director of the Mobile Health Map, echoes Watt’s statement regarding the lowered cost to health care organizations and the higher likelihood of successful treatment for those treated at mobile clinics. “Our research has demonstrated that mobile clinics have broad benefits for both clients and health care systems,” Bennet said. “More than half service rural areas, 14 percent exclusively so. These clinics provide care to nearly 4 million people each year.”
The proven benefits that mobile clinics have had across the nation are why Alexander doesn’t want the Sullivan Center to limit itself to four counties. Watt said she and her staff are ready to take that mission and literally roll with it, preferably up a steep hill or down a muddy path upon which no other mobile unit can reliably tread. Odulair claims the clinic should last well past 2030, and Watt said the Sullivan Center looks forward to making it a second home for years to come.
The staff is planning a “clinic campaign” as far as the Lowcountry. According to Kyle, the idea is to drive the clinic to a rural area in the Lowcountry and let the staff work its way back to Clemson over the span of several days.
Kyle said she is sure she’ll have to explain the clinic’s presence to health care organizations during the trip. She’s had to defend the clinic in the past to those who think it’s there to “poach” patients. Patients like Soto and Harris aren’t being poached so much as they’re being discovered so that organizations like the Sullivan Center can improve their odds when they reach these hospitals. These health care organizations usually come around when they realize the Sullivan Center is actually sending them brand new, health-conscious patients, she said.
“We treat and educate patients who don’t exist in any health care system,” Kyle said. “We take care of the immediate needs and put them on a path to better health. We don’t steal patients; we reveal the invisible ones.”
Michael Staton is a public information coordinator for the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences and the College of Education.