ACPS slates federal funds for new mobile health center

ACPS slates federal funds for new mobile health center
(File Photo)

By Melissa Quinn

Forget the traditional nurse’s office, Alexandria City Public Schools officials hope to unveil a mobile doctor’s office by the end of 2014.

The district recently received a grant for more than $380,771 from the Health Resources and Services Administration, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. Officials plan to use the dollars to build a RV-like vehicle, which will travel between three of Alexandria’s elementary schools to provide primary health, basic dental and mental health care to students.

“What we’re seeing in Alexandria is a rising number of students from low income families,” said Robin Wellin, ACPS Health Services Coordinator. “And more of those students have health problems.”

More than half the district’s students are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch. In several schools as 80 percent of the student population is eligible for the helping hand. Ensuring students’ access to medical care will result in better academic performance, said Superintendent Morton Sherman.

“We know that children whose physical, social and emotional needs are met are much better learners and perform better throughout their educational careers,” he said in a statement. “We are committed to adding resources to this grant to ensure that it accomplishes its goals.”

The mobile health unit – expected to roll out by the end of next year – would make the rounds between William Ramsey, Patrick Henry and John Adams elementary schools.

ACPS was one of two districts in the commonwealth to receive the grant. When finished, the RV-sized vehicle will boast a waiting and reception area, and two treatment rooms – one for physical care and one for dental care – a service Wellin hopes students will take advantage of.

“An enormous number of students had oral health problems and many had Medicaid to cover dental services,” she said. “We realized making that care available is really important.”

As the new year rolls in, school officials plan to meet with potential contractors to run the unit. While ACPS will supply the facility, Wellin hopes to find outside health providers to handle the dental and physical care. Students’ insurance would then be billed as they visit the unit.

“What I envision is that there would be a provider who could provide those services and bill insurance and Medicaid so they would be able to sustain delivery of service,” Wellin said.

Still, availability of service depends on the care providers that ultimately team up with ACPS. It’s not yet clear whether uninsured students could receive free medical attention, but officials remain hopeful all of the district’s children would be able to receive care from the roving doctor’s office.

“Some students are uninsured and our hope is to increase the availability and access to care so kid are getting the care they need,” Wellin said. “That’s why we care about it.”

While officials kept quiet on the possibility of a mobile health unit until receiving the grant, Wellin wants to bring residents into the planning process, and hopes to form a planning committee. Administrators currently are fielding offers from businesses looking to outfit the van.