Hundreds Flock to USF Nursing Students’ Mobile Health Clinics

Nursing Students Open Mobile Clinics to Help Families

By Ed Carpenter, Office of Marketing Communications Posted Thu, 06/26/2014 - 17:00

Hundreds of Central Valley residents sought treatment at mobile health clinics set up by USF nursing students.

In May, USF nursing students traveled to one of the poorest regions in the country and set up pop-up health clinics to treat local residents who couldn’t afford to see a physician. Children as young as 4 years old, their parents and family members, along with many of the community’s homeless lined up by the hundreds.

Surrounded by produce, yet in a food desert

The two-week immersion trip wasn’t in Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta — regions known for poverty in America. It was a three-hour drive from San Francisco in California’s Central Valley, an area of such agricultural abundance that it produces one-third of the nation’s produce. Yet, the region ranks among the poorest in America. And, though fruit and nut trees and vegetable crops of all kinds surround them, many residents find nutritious food hard come by. A government health assessment rates Tulare and Fresno counties among the unhealthiest in the nation based on factors such as premature death, access to healthy foods, and the number of local primary care providers. 

“The living conditions were really surprising,” said nursing student Deborah Szeto ’15. “Many families live in trailers, crowding seven or more people into two or three rooms. Some homes were in clear violation of building and health codes.”

Preparing kids for school in the fall

Szeto was part of a crew of 11 USF undergraduate and graduate students, and several USF faculty, who teamed up with the nonprofit Save the Children Federation and area school districts. For a second consecutive summer, the group conducted vision and hearing screenings and physicals to prepare kids for school in the fall. Their parents received diabetes and blood pressure screenings as well as physical exams. The homeless received health checkups and referrals for additional services.

“We treated about 400 people at mobile clinics in four elementary schools, at the Farmersville Memorial Day Parade, and at two homeless shelters,” said Jo Loomis, USF assistant professor of nursing and leader of the immersion course. Some adults had never seen a health care professional in their life, Loomis said.

Falling through the cracks

The Central Valley is America’s breadbasket, but the workers that big agricultural and grocery companies rely on to plant, harvest, and bring the country’s food to market are barely surviving. That’s why USF created the Central Valley nursing clinic program, Loomis said.

“For me, the trip really revealed the hurdles of providing care to marginalized populations: lack of insurance, language differences, inability to access transportation, and cost,” said nursing student Alyson Lazzarotti ’15. 

Save the Children

On home visits to rural families with early childhood care coordinators from Save the Children, USF nursing students talked with mothers about the need for annual child health checkups, the dangers of second- and third-hand smoke, and the benefits of breast-feeding. Nursing students also educated Save the Children staff on the health impacts of alcohol, domestic abuse, and environmental toxins.

“It’s hard to list all the benefits of working with the USF nursing program, there are so many,” said SaRonn Mitchell, program specialist at Save the Children in Northern California. “I wish all the Save the Children programs in the state could have similar partnerships.” 

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