'Health on Wheels' Program Celebrates 10 Years of Service to Community, New Mobile Clinic
Celebrating 10 years of service to the community and the addition of a new mobile clinic, partners from the Health on Wheels program, including Cal State Long Beach, gathered for a grand re-opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony recently at Dolland Elementary School in Norwalk.
Established in 1996, Health on Wheels is a collaborative partnership between the Nursing Program at Cal State Long Beach, the City of Norwalk, Kaiser Permanente and the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District (NLMUSD). The nurse-managed clinic operates Monday through Thursday, visiting nine elementary schools in the Norwalk area on a weekly rotating schedule throughout the school year.
The program serves children and their siblings who have no medical insurance. Among the services provided at the clinic include physical examinations, treatment of acute minor illness and injuries, basic laboratory diagnostic tests, health education and referrals. All services are provided without charge to the families.
Over the last 10 years, the Health on Wheels program has seen more than 13,000 children, according to Veronica Torres, a registered nurse and pediatric nurse practitioner who has served as the program advisor for NLMUSD for the last nine years. In 2005, the school-based mobile health clinic conducted more than 1,000 clinic visits, serving some 750 students and administering more than 1,000 vaccines.
And now, the partners have a new home to conduct these visits and administer care. With the help of a grant from Kaiser Permanente and matching funds from the NLMUSD, the program was able to purchase an RV to house the clinic. The original mobile facility, a trailer that was pulled by a truck, was retired.
The new mobile clinic is a 34-foot, 2006 recreational vehicle that includes two fully operational exam rooms, a bathroom and small waiting area. It also has a television for educational videos, two laptop computers, a printer and a copier.
"I remember my first day that it (the trailer health clinic) was in operation. We kept losing electricity. One moment (the equipment was working) and then it wouldn't work," recalled Natalie Cheffer, an assistant professor of nursing at CSULB and one of the first nurse practitioners to work with Health on Wheels. "We also had manual charting back in the beginning of the program. Anytime we gave a shot to a child, we marked it down on a piece of paper. Then, at the end of the month when we wanted to see how many visits we had or how many shots we gave, we would get out our papers and count all of the marks to see how successful we had been over the last month.
"Now, our entire charting system is electronic. When we need to know something about any statistics, we can call them up on the computer. No longer do we have to count all the marks on a sheet of paper," Cheffer continued. "So, we've come a long way, and it is pretty amazing just how far we have come. Yet, I can assure you the program has been successful and will continue to be successful because of its partners. They are committed to the program's mission, which is to provide health care for children in a respectful and culturally sensitive manner."
Each of the four members of the partnership contributes a piece of the program that ensures its success. The CSULB Nursing Program provides pediatric nurse practitioner faculty -- Natalie Cheffer, Olivia Lara and Cheryl Deter -- as well as equipment and supplies. In addition, the mobile clinic serves as clinical educational facility for both graduate nurse practitioner students and undergraduate nursing students at CSULB.
"One of our highest priorities is education. We strive to educate pediatric nurse practitioners, family nurse practitioners and community health nursing students (in the mobile clinic)," Cheffer explained. "Under the supervision of pediatric nurse practitioner faculty, our nursing practitioner students educate patients and families on what they can do to improve their health of their children and other family members.
"In addition, we have community health nursing students providing education in the classroom. They go out to classrooms every semester and talk about how students can improve their diet, be healthy, how they can exercise, how they can take care of their teeth, how they can wash their hands to prevent diseases," she added. "We also try to educate parents on what they can do to keep their children healthy as well. It is this educational component of Health on Wheels that makes the program unique."
The contributions of the other three partners are equally important. The City of Norwalk provides the driver as well as the maintenance of the mobile clinic vehicle. Kaiser Permanente provides Dr. Juan Carlos Ruiz, who serves as the medical director for Health on Wheels. Dr. Ruiz reviews policies and nurse practitioner standardized procedures protocols and is available by phone for consultation.
Lastly, the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District provides Torres to coordinate the program, and Elvia Martins, a medical assistant. In addition, the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District provides liaisons at each of the participating schools to assist parents with scheduling appointments at Health on Wheels.
"This program was a dream about 10 years ago. We knew that this idea, this project -- to make certain that we could help students be healthy, to help them learn in school -- was something we wanted to do," noted Ginger Shattuck, superintendent of the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District. "What was dreamed of and brought together was something that I think is unique, the sustaining of it for 10 years is unique, and the number of families it has served is tremendous."
"Everyone who has been involved in putting this together has been committed because they know and they come and observe the services that it provides for our families and our students," Shattuck added. "There is a passion for this that is not necessarily seen in every single project, but there has been such commitment from this collaborative, and I truly believe in collaboratives. I truly believe that when you get organizations that bring different strengths to a project, and they all have that same vision and they stay together, it can't help but be successful."
| Public Affairs Offices/Campus News
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