The UNACARE mobile clinic parked in front of Martin Head Start Center in Jackson.


Betty Moore, Jackson Manor resident, gets her blood pressure checked by Micha'el Sheriff, patient care technician, in front of the UNACARE mobile clinic.
Betty Moore, Jackson Manor resident, gets her blood pressure checked by Micha'el Sheriff, patient care technician, in front of the UNACARE mobile clinic.
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Mobile clinic provides much-needed, convenient care for young and old

Published on Monday, December 10, 2018

By: Kate Royals

A year and a half after the UNACARE Mobile Clinic was unveiled, the people aboard the unique van are doing exactly what was intended: taking health care to people who may not have access to it otherwise.

Micha’el Sheriff, a patient care technician at the University of Mississippi School of Nursing-run UNACARE clinic, cranks up the bus twice a week and drives it to a different location in the Midtown neighborhood of Jackson.

The day before Thanksgiving, she parked the bus in front of Jackson Manor Apartments, a complex for low-income elderly residents on Josanna Street. She and Pamela Helms, a nurse practitioner with the nursing school, housed at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, greeted their patients who walked – or wheeled – out on the front sidewalk close to where the bus was parked.

Sheriff brought out a blood pressure monitor to check Betty Moore, a wheelchair-bound resident who has trouble seeing. Helms talked with Moore about an upcoming appointment with the eye doctor.

“A lot of these folks have problems with transportation. Even though we have public transportation, it doesn’t necessarily meet their schedules,” Helms described. “ … All the time I hear people talking about how they paid someone 20 dollars to take them four or five blocks to the Walgreens to get their medicine.

“Having something like this that comes here to them – it means an awful lot.”

Inside the UNACARE mobile clinic, Pamela Helms talks to Robert Chapman, Jackson Manor resident, about a diet aimed at reducing hypertension.

For Robert Chapman, another resident at Jackson Manor, it may have even saved his life.

A few weeks before, Chapman had walked out of the complex and planned to pass by the mobile clinic that was parked outside. But Sheriff and Helms greeted him and encouraged him to get checked out.

“I said ‘aw, nah, I’m fine,’” Chapman recalled. “They almost had to twist my arm, but I’m glad they did.”

It turned out he wasn’t fine – his blood pressure was dangerously high, and he had to be sent to the hospital in an ambulance.

He said he had stopped taking his medications, but the visit to the mobile clinic “got me back on track.”

Chapman is now a patient of Dr. Marilyn Harrington at UNACARE Family Health Clinic, a full-service, nurse-run, urban family practice clinic close to Jackson Manor. Since Chapman doesn’t have transportation of his own, the regular mobile clinic visits and the short walk to UNACARE make life a lot easier.

“It helps the people who need it the most,” he said of the mobile clinic. “ … There are a lot of people like that – they need help and don’t know it. Or don’t know how to get it.”

Chapman doesn’t miss an appointment at the clinic these days.

“It started me on the road back to healthy and happy,” Chapman said. “Well, I’ve always been happy.”

Thomas Powell, 5, gets his temperature checked by Melinda Talley, UMMC third-year medical student, at Martin Head Start Center in Jackson, while Lemeah Dean, 3, looks on.

Helms, Sheriff and others with the mobile clinic also help patients at the other end of life’s spectrum: children at Martin Head Start in Jackson. They perform physicals, check vitals and talk with the children about nutrition and safety topics they might not learn at home.

One Thursday morning Helms sits in a chair in front of about 10 three- and four-year olds in the center’s cafeteria area. She held a poster that displays what a “Healthy Eating Plate” looks like. The poster shows a plate with sections for protein, vegetable, fruit and whole grain carbohydrate. She went over healthy options from each of the categories.

“Do you like grapes? How about popcorn?”

She was met with a chorus of “yea’s!”

At Martin Head Start Center, Helms talks to a group of students about nutrition.

When she asked what snacks the children liked and one boy answered “a hamburger,” she suggested healthier options from the list on the poster.

She also went over what to do if someone rings the doorbell at their home while their parent isn’t in the room or isn’t there – and had them all practice yelling for help as they would if a stranger grabbed them at the grocery store.

“No! No! Help, help!” the voices rang out.

Outside in the mobile clinic, nurse practitioner Koscher Jackson was performing physicals on children. Many of the children at Martin qualify for the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment under Medicaid, and the professionals with the mobile clinic provide that service each year.

The bus – equipped with an exam room and a “reception” area in the front – provides a place for Jackson and Helms to do the assessment portion of the physical, while children can have their vitals taken inside the building.

Koscher Jackson, nurse practitioner, examines A'rmonei Batiste, 5, in the UNACARE mobile clinic's exam room.

Keatha Keys, family opportunity advisor at the Head Start center, describes the service as “very helpful” and “convenient.”

“Everybody’s so friendly and pleasant. I think overall they do an excellent job,” Keys said of those working the mobile clinic. “Some kids who are shy – they get them to open up.”

Plus, the kids love the bus.

“They’re so excited, they think they’re fixing to go for a ride,” Keys laughed.

The mobile clinic also travels to Midtown Head Start Center to and Midtown Public Charter School, where the staff provides physicals as well as sick visits for students.