It used to take Bobellina Moric about four to six hours to travel to and from the doctor. Thanks to a new program in Citrus County, medical treatment can come to her.
Moric, a homeless veteran who lives in Citrus County, used to schedule transportation and appointments ahead of time with her local Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Citrus County Health Department is now helping low-income and homeless patients like Moric who don’t have transportation get basic medical services with a new health bus.
On the bus, health professionals can do general check-ups and gynecological exams. They can also prescribe medication, conduct labs and STD tests, and provide free birth control and condoms.
Jim Rashley, assistant director, said the bus aims to serve areas far away from health centers.
Moric first used the health bus when it was in front of the Citrus County Family Resource Center. She said she was surprised by the speedy and kind attention she received during her physical and dental exams.
“For being a broke county [Citrus], this is just phenomenal,” she said.
The bus was funded by a grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, which classifies the county as a health professional shortage area, according to its website.
Citrus County is also considered low-income by HRSA because it has lower income per capita and a slightly higher poverty rate than the rest of Florida, according to the U.S. Census.
McKinley Lewis, a Florida Department of Health spokesman, said FDH provides 20 buses around the state. Though UF Health hosts a mobile clinic throughout Alachua County, the Citrus County bus is the only one funded by the FDH in North Central Florida.
The need for a mobile health unit is determined by each county, in order to address health outcomes specific to the local communities, he said.
Linda Wall, a bus staff member, said the bus started its rounds in March and operates four days a week. Services are offered depending on income, with the minimum fee of $10 for a physical exam. But, staff members try to be flexible with patients.
“We’re not going to hinder them getting care if they’re unable to pay us at that moment,” said Erika Tomin, a bus coordinator.
Valerie Altman, a nurse practitioner on the bus, said some patients have not seen a doctor in more than 10 years. Within a month on the bus, she said she’s seen patients ranging in age from 20 to 86. Some patients are migrant farm workers, unemployed or low-income residents.
“We’re dealing mostly with the homeless,” she said. “There are a lot of injuries. They hurt themselves or cut themselves.”
If more specialized care is needed, the nurses help patients decide where to go next and who to contact if they can’t pay for services.
However, Wall said Citrus County doesn’t have many specialists and sometimes they have to refer patients to Gainesville.
The bus intends to be the primary care provider and full-service clinic for hard-to-reach patients, Tomin said. After their initial visit, they can return to the bus and get follow-ups or pick up lab results.
James Sleighter, the director of the Homeless Shelter Mission in Citrus County, said the bus has fulfilled a big need for the homeless persons they see coming to their shelters. They don’t have many working vehicles and the number of people in need of their services is increasing.
Rashley said the county determined the area’s need for a mobile clinic after speaking with community leaders who work with impoverished groups.
The health department is relying on them to spread the word about the bus and build confidence in a community that typically is not trusting, he said.
“We are really the safety net in these communities,” Rashley said.