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USF College of Nursing to serve disadvantaged communities with new mobile health unit

Posted at 6:45 AM, Aug 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-04 07:24:59-04

TAMPA, Fla. — “My family will tell you I’ve been dreaming about this for about 10 or 15 years,” said Dr. Usha Menon, Dean of the University of South Florida College of Nursing and Senior Associate Vice President of USF Health.

Her dream will finally become a reality.

“I’ve always wanted to have a mobile unit that went out from the college,” said Menon.

The USF College of Nursing just received a $3.85 million grant for a mobile health unit. It’s currently under construction but will be hitting the streets soon.

“We’re hoping to have a van that is large enough to have two exam rooms and a small bathroom in there so people can actually give urine samples, and we can do well women visits, and there’s complete privacy,” said Menon.

The unit will go out to areas with limited access to healthcare because health inequities and health disparities aren’t always about people not having insurance or money.

“It’s also the access to care. When you think about economically disadvantaged individuals not being able to take time off work, not being able to find childcare or transportation, and come and sit in a parking lot somewhere and have to wait long appointments, this is about taking healthcare to them in their communities,” said Menon.

This unit will also be an opportunity to educate nursing students about caring for people in community settings and coming up with personalized plans for the specific needs of people who have limited access.

“You can’t just go and tell somebody, 'Oh, you have type 2 diabetes. You need to lose weight, and you’ve got to eat healthy.' Well, eating healthy is very expensive. Eating fresh foods is very expensive. So how do we incorporate the fact that somebody may not be able to afford what is traditionally healthy food?” asked Menon.

She wants this mobile unit to be a place where people don’t have to travel far, take a lot of time off of work, or secure childcare.

“Also a trusted place where they will not only receive contemporary services but at the same time will be treated with dignity and respect. And that there will be students and advanced practice nurses that will care about culture sensitivity and culture appropriateness and will treat them as any other patient who has come to seek care,” said Menon.

“Another really neat thing is that we’re going to have a portable electronic health record. So these are not people who will receive episodic care. If they need to go somewhere for specialty treatment, we have a record that can be sent with them to wherever they go. So again, it’s really thinking about that whole person,” she added.

These are the areas the van will initially start serving:

  • Tampa Heights
  • Wimauma
  • Sulphur Springs
  • Port Tampa Bay
  • South St. Petersburg

“Those zip codes that are officially federally designated as underserved areas,” said Menon.

Project leaders said this is just the beginning.

“I’m not going to stop with one unit. I’m hoping to have a couple that we can take out with the support of the community,” said Menon.

The college is already working on a plan for longevity to make a lasting impact.

“We are working very hard with the community now to see how can we one, take the money and make it last longer. And two, what can we do to sustain this effort so that once we develop the trust in those communities, we’re not taking away what we brought,” said Menon.

They need these things from the community to help with their mission:

  • Large parking spaces where they can park the van safely
  • Donor fund to support certain aspects like supplies for the unit
  • Business sponsorships for routes
  • Places where they can offer community health education and cancer screening initiatives

“We’re looking at different ways that we can really utilize the van with community partners. Some of it would be opportunities to pay to support the van, and others would be simply giving us the time and space and room,” said Menon.

The van is expected to be complete in the next five to eight months.