Innovative Idea Gets Health on Wheels Program Rolling at UNC Charlotte

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When opportunity knocked, Dena Evans didn’t limit herself to thinking outside the box. She thought outside the building.

The result is a plan to deliver health on wheels to the people of rural Mecklenburg County and surrounding areas.

It all started a couple of months ago at UNC Charlotte. That’s when leadership of the College of Health and Human Services was challenged to come up with better ways to use some of its third-floor teaching space. Evans, who is director of the university’s School of Nursing and a member of the honors facility, envisioned a bigger opportunity that wasn’t confined to the four walls of the traditional classroom, however.  “I wrote a proposal, and part of it was for an academic, nurse-led rural mobile health clinic,” she said.

Evans grew up in Anson County, east of Charlotte, and had lived and worked in rural parts of the state. She was well aware of the significant health challenges facing those populations. “I thought, ‘Why does a space have to be bricks and mortar?’” she pointed out. “Taking health care directly to people can help ensure access to primary care services that may not be readily available in rural communities.”

The idea was an innovative approach to a serious problem – the inequity of health care in underserved areas of North Carolina.

The initiative also could allow nursing students to care for individuals in their home environments, witnessing – firsthand – the environmental and social factors that contribute to poor health. “This type of experience has the potential to increase student awareness of the challenges and circumstances that can lead to hospitalizations,” she added. “There are more health care needs than those you see in the hospital.”

Targeting full implementation in 2022

Now Evans is working with the university’s Office of Advancement, and community partners, to develop an infrastructure for the program and to find funding. The hope is to be fully operational in 2022.

Dena Evans
Dena Evans

The mobile clinic site ultimately will become an integral part of the nursing school’s required curriculum. Evans estimates that as many as 250 students could use it in their program of study. They would work with the School of Nursing faculty as part of a larger interdisciplinary team serving the health care needs of the area’s most vulnerable citizens. 

Ideally, the clinic will have the flexibility to focus on specific health concerns, aligned with client population needs, and be available at regularly scheduled intervals during the week. It also can serve as an educational resource in the community. 

“While many details are still to be worked out, we hope to operate for at least several days a week and possibly on weekends,” Evans added.  More than one mobile clinic is an option as well, depending on future support and health care demands in the region. It’s also about the nursing students. “We want to train them to understand and address the needs of patients outside hospital settings,” Evans said.

Innovative thinking is another byproduct. “Until we take our nurses out of a hospital environment where they can just pick up a high-tech piece of equipment to take care of the patient, they’re not going to think about how to innovate,” she pointed out. “I hope that by putting them in communities where they don’t have those options, we’ll spark some creative ideas.”

Promoting innovation is goal of two-day virtual conference

Encouraging innovative thinking also is the goal of an upcoming two-day virtual conference, Accelerating Health Care Innovation in North Carolina. It’s sponsored by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and UNC FastTraCS. And it has the support of NC IDEA – a private foundation whose vision is “to help North Carolinians achieve their entrepreneurial ambition to start and grow high potential companies.”

The objective of the event is to provide the insights and strategies current and future health care professionals need to transform ideas into solutions that positively impact the delivery of health care. It will be held this Thursday and Friday, September 23 and 24, from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Bryant Haskins, NCBiotech Writer
Mon, 09/20/2021 - 15:02