Joanna Bryant wants to make health care easier to access for Minnesotans.
As the Health and Wellness Coordinator for the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC), she helped develop a mobile medical clinic that visits American Indian and other communities around the state. The clinic offers preventative care like dental cleaning, eye exams and school check ups.
“The beautiful thing about a mobile [clinic] is that I can’t think of a service I can’t put in a mobile concept,” Bryant said. “You just need the space and you need the provider. The core of it is very, very simple.”
This summer, the mobile unit — an 80-foot semi-truck equipped for high-tech screenings including X-rays and mammograms — will go on tour for its ninth season, offering free services to Minnesota communities. Upcoming stops in the south metro include the Savage Public Library on May 21, Slavic Baptist Church in Shakopee on June 18, and Radermacher’s Fresh Market in Jordan on July 9.
For Bryant, the clinic is about removing the barriers for people who might otherwise not have access to get potentially lifesaving screenings.
Christine Michael, mobile unit coordinator and mammographer, who goes on every mobile clinic trip where mammograms are provided, said she’s already seen major benefits from the program first hand.
“We are reaching women who would normally not get a mammogram. They come here because they feel safe,” she said. “They are so thankful that we come and do the mammograms, and then they come back and say, ‘You found my cancer a year ago and it was early because I come on the mobile every year.’ It’s so rewarding.”
Many of the communities the SMSC mobile clinic visits every year have come to rely on the service, Bryant said.
“Now, seven-plus years into it, people depend on that mobile to be there,” she said. “So I think … that somehow we are addressing a need that they have that hasn’t been addressed before. There’s just sheer gratitude and appreciation.”
In addition to its annual stops, last year was the first time the medical unit visited Little Earth of United Tribes, a south Minneapolis low-income housing complex.
The clinic spent two days launching its initiative to provide well-child services, like school-required physicals and immunizations for more than 120 children. Nathan Ratner, director of partnerships, planning and strategy at Little Earth said the response from the community was, “tremendous,” spurring deeper conversations about health care among residents.
“People loved having the mobile clinic here,” he said.
Bryant said she hopes to increase the number of children the mobile clinic sees for well-child visits in the future.
“I think that more of the child well-checks and the early, preventive-type component is where we need to spend a little bit more time,” she said. “I think we could reach the little ones a little bit better.”
While most of the mobile unit’s target audience is Indians, its services are not limited to tribal communities. The SMSC currently also has a partnership with the Scott County Department of Health to use the mobile unit every month.
“[Scott County’s] target population is to reach those who are uninsured and get them transitioned and plugged into the services within their county,” Bryant said.
Since the partnership began with Scott County, the mobile clinic has served more than 500 people in the area by providing services like education and blood screenings, Bryant said. The next Scott County stop will be at the Savage Public Library May 21.
The group has also attended various community events and company wellness fairs.
Demand for mobile medical services is high, but the SMSC mobile clinic is currently at its capacity for annual travel, Bryant said.
The medical unit’s only driver, Dan Hokinson, spends more than 100 days on the road between April and November each year. Without hiring more drivers or building another medical unit, they won’t be able to add many new locations to the agenda, Bryant said.
She said she hopes that others will see the benefits of mobile medicine and implement programs that are similar to SMSC’s.
“It’s definitely a big task to take on, we’ve had lots of people come and look at it and want to know how it works,” she said. “I don’t know of a lot who have been able to deploy one as of yet, but there’s still a lot of people talking about it, that is for sure.”
Janice Bitters is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.