The College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) will unveil a mobile health unit dedicated to expanding rural health care access in Tennessee at 11:30 a.m., May 11, on the Memphis campus.
The unveiling and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the UTHSC Nursing Mobile Health unit (MHU) will take place in the parking area next to UTHSC’s Hyman Administration Building at 62 S. Dunlap St.
Funded through a four-year, $3.9 million grant to the UTHSC College of Nursing from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the unit will be staffed and operated by the college. The unit will increase health care access in Lake and Lauderdale counties and allow the college to integrate rural health education into its undergraduate and graduate programs. HRSA designates both counties as underserved.
The unveiling event, which occurs during National Nurses Week, will include comments by UTHSC Chancellor Peter Buckley, MD, College of Nursing Dean Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, APRN-BC, FAANP, Lauderdale County Mayor Maurice Gaines, Lake County Mayor Danny Cook, and a nursing student. UTHSC nursing students will give tours of the unit, as well.
“There is a population in Lake and Lauderdale counties who have poorer health outcomes due to difficulty accessing care,” said Assistant Professor Diana Dedmon, DNP, FNP-BC, who is the principal investigator for the grant. “The College of Nursing is excited to work with community leaders and health care providers in these two communities to address those access gaps, while simultaneously introducing students to how gratifying it can be to serve in rural and underserved communities.” Dr. Dedmon grew up in Lauderdale County and worked there as a nurse practitioner.
The mobile health unit is 24 feet long and 8 feet wide with a clinical space of 117 square feet comprising a check-in area and one exam room. Both areas will have telemedicine equipment and computer stations. The exam room will also have an exam table and clinical assessment equipment. Once operational, the unit will have two staff people — one advanced practice nurse and one medical assistant or licensed practical nurse. Clinical services provided in the unit will include primary care, mental health care, chronic disease management, prenatal care, and HIV care.
Lake and Lauderdale counties have the second- and 13th-highest poverty rates among the 95 Tennessee counties, respectively, according to the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute Report on Tennessee for 2021. Lake County has the highest incidence of low birth weight and smoking. Lauderdale County has the second-highest rates of diabetes and adult obesity and the fourth-highest adult smoking rate. Life expectancy in both counties is below state and national averages.
“I am so proud of our team here at the College of Nursing for their dedication to these communities,” Dean Likes said. “This is what we do in nursing. We go where we are needed and to those who need us. This is an opportunity for us to partner with the communities in these two counties to improve the health of its citizens and to educate students in a rural setting in the hope that they will choose to practice where access is limited and their expertise is so greatly needed.”
Lake County Mayor Danny Cook said, “We are very excited about the opportunity to have the mobile health unit here. The main thing we want is for our people in Lake County to have the best opportunity to lead happy and healthy lives.”
Lauderdale County Mayor Maurice Gaines, Jr., said that nearly 5,000 of his county’s citizens live in poverty and do not have proper access to health care. “The impact of a Mobile Health Unit for Lauderdale County will be immense for the citizens of Lauderdale County. The MHU will provide community members with free access to proper health care in our community. Many of those impacted may not have transportation, and the MHU will eliminate that burden by bringing the resources to those in need.”
Another major goal of the HRSA grant and the mobile health unit is to expand the nursing workforce and to increase the cultural competency of nurses serving patients in rural areas. Students in the college’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program will have the opportunity to earn micro-credentials in selected concepts that prepare nurse graduates to improve health equity, access, and outcomes for vulnerable populations.
A Rural Scholars Program will be implemented in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program for the following concentrations: family nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, and nurse-midwifery. Students in this program will complete up to 50% of their clinical hours on the mobile health unit or in a rural health clinic and will focus their DNP scholarly project on a health care challenge in the rural community.