A new mobile unit is driving from school to school in the Chicago area to provide free pediatric and adolescent healthcare services in underserved communities while delivering a smile from a popular mascot. The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile provides physicals, immunizations, and referrals for students who otherwise would not be able to receive healthcare.
On a hot July day, the van was parked outside Paul Robeson High School in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Ronald’s face on the side of the van was easy to spot, even from the other side of the parking lot. He always gets the attention of the children, which usually helps the nurses get the kids to the van.
“It definitely helps to have Ronald’s picture outside,” said Jacqueline Evans, MS, APN, CPNP, who works in the van full time. “No matter what street we drive down, kids wave at us and ask us where we are going. Some even think that we are bringing hamburgers.”
On that day, Evans was waiting for the students of Robeson to arrive. Even though schools are normally out in July, the van was there to see students who participated in the Chicago Public School’s Freshman Connection program. The program offers new students the opportunity to get prepared for high school during the month of July by providing them with orientation, extra academic activities, creative projects, and field trips. This year, the van visited 25 participating schools and checked the health of dozens of the new students.
“Today we have seen two students, so far. We usually schedule at least 10 before we plan a visit,” she says. “High schools are always difficult. Students there don’t usually do a good job getting the consent forms signed by the parents, so sometimes we are not able to see as many students as we plan to.”
While waiting, Evans proudly showed off the state-of-the-art 40-foot-by-8-foot vehicle that features two exam rooms, a reception area, a medical record area, a lab, a refrigerator, a microwave oven, and even a TV.
The van, which was formerly a University of Chicago dental unit, was refurbished by Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana and is worth more than $400,000. It is staffed and operated by Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill. The operation is subsidized by the charity, and the hospital provides the rest of the cost from its own funds and with donations from other charities.Front row, left, Kelli Patton, a certified medical assistant, Bob Knoop, bus driver, middle, Jacqueline Evans, RN, MS, APN/CPNP, a pediatric nurse practitioner, and Ginny Fowler, RN, BSN, CPN, a nurse practitioner student, stand in front of the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile.
The van was delivered in February and started to make visits in April, joining several other mobile units that work in the Chicago area, which are operated by different institutions and hospitals. Even before joining the Chicago Public Schools program, the van already had provided healthcare services for more than 200 children. Nurses perform general checkups and immunizations, and educate children on health issues such as asthma and obesity.
“This van is a great tool for us because we are able to come out and see the children where it is most convenient for them, so they don’t have to leave the school to wait at a doctor’s office,” says Evans. “We provide services for children with no insurance or Medicaid. Our goal is to be the first connection, not to be a clinic, but to connect children with primary-care providers and pediatric specialists who can see them in the future.”
The program has grown steadily since administrators began to build community connections. At first, administrators had to look for possible sites to visit. But after a few months, schools began to call and ask for visits. The van also is welcome at health fairs and wellness drives.
“We have many sites where we do one-time visits, and we also have six schools that we go to on a regular basis in the city and in the south suburbs,” says Alicia Boyd, RN, practice manager for the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile. “We are focusing on communities where the percentage of low-income families is higher than average and search for families that have issues with access to healthcare.”
Among the short-term goals of the program, Boyd mentions the need to fill their schedule and make more community contacts. In the future, she anticipates significant additions to the program.
“There is also a rumor that we might get a second van from the [charity],” she says, “which, needless to say, will enable us to do even more for low-income communities.”