Academic, political, and community leaders; nursing professionals; and students gathered today at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center to celebrate the unveiling and ribbon cutting for the UTHSC Nursing Mobile Health unit, which will help expand health care in two rural West Tennessee counties.
The ceremony in front of the Mooney Building in the heart of the Memphis campus included visitors and community leaders from Lake and Lauderdale counties – the two communities that will be served by the unit, when it gets on the road in June.
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 faculty and students from the college. The unit will not only increase health care access in Lake and Lauderdale counties, but it will allow the college to integrate rural health education into its undergraduate and graduate programs. Students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs will be part of the college’s rural outreach. HRSA designates both counties as underserved.
“We look forward to becoming part of the Lake and Lauderdale County communities and to providing a more robust education in rural health care to our BSN and DNP students,” said College of Nursing Dean Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, APRN-BC, FAANP. Nineteen BSN students and three DNP students are participating in the rural health program. Over the next three years, the college will enroll 110 more BSN students and 27 more DNP students in the program.
The Nursing Mobile Health unit reflects UTHSC’s new vision – Healthy Tennesseans. Thriving Communities, said UTHSC Chancellor Peter Buckley, MD, in opening the ceremony. These four words are emblazoned on the back of the unit.
“This is the right place at the right moment for what we’re doing,” the chancellor said. He pointed out that a month ago, UTHSC hosted another ribbon cutting on campus to open the new Delta Dental of Tennessee Building, which will also help to improve the health of Tennesseans by allowing the university to train more dentists.
Lake County Mayor Danny Cook said most residents of his county live at least 25 miles from the nearest hospital. “We are the most economically depressed county in the state, and it is so encouraging to know that you realize the needs we have,” he said. “We know that you will not only improve the lives of people in Lake County, but through this unit and your assistance, you will probably save lives in Lake County.”
Lauderdale County Mayor Maurice Gaines, Jr., said the mobile health unit offers a solution to two of the major problems faced by rural residents: access and transportation. “We have over 5,000 people living in poverty, and they do not seek health care at all or until it is too late.”
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 on the unit will include primary care, mental health care, chronic disease management, prenatal care, and HIV care.
BSN student Matt Davis has already been involved in the college’s outreach to rural counties. In speaking to the gathering, he recalled a woman in Lake County who told him, “‘We feel forgotten.’ They don’t have people reaching out to them. But now, we have wheels to reach out to them.”
BSN student Yuliya Ablaeva said she is excited to be part of the solution to the problem of rural health care access. “People in those communities have limited access to the simplest things that we can advantage of. Going for a check-up for checking your blood-pressure are so easy for us, but they are not easily attainable to them.”