Mobile Medical Unit Set to Arrive This Fall

WHEELING — The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department’s first mobile medical unit is slated to be delivered in September or October.

Speaking at the Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health’s meeting Tuesday, administrator Howard Gamble said the unit is being at built now on a chassis at La Boit Specialty Vehicles of Gahanna, Ohio. The firm is assembling and outfitting the 26-foot unit to the health department’s specifications.

The new mobile medical unit will be used primarily by the department’s Project HOPE street medicine program. It also can be utilized at disaster scenes and for other outreach efforts undertaken by the health department.

Gamble said the unit’s total cost is $186,000, with $100,000 to be paid with a gift from New Life United Methodist Church on Wheeling Island and the remainder covered by Project HOPE funds, departmental sources and other grants.

After the unit is operational, the health department will have ongoing expenses such as insurance, repairs and possibly storage costs, Gamble said. However, he said that if the Ohio County Commission goes forward with its plan to establish a county ambulance service, it is hoped that the mobile medical unit could be stored, free of charge, in a facility with county-owned ambulances. Meanwhile, Dr. William Mercer, county health officer, said Project HOPE now has 40 volunteers and two medical teams that make rounds from 5:30-9:30 p.m. every Tuesday at homeless camps and shelters in the community. In addition, the group conducts a homeless outreach clinic at Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center on 18th Street from 9-11 a.m. on Saturdays.

“We’ve come a long way,” Mercer said about Project HOPE’s growth. “We’ve made this a fantastic program.”

Wheeling and San Francisco are the only U.S. cities where homeless outreach programs are operated by public health departments, he said. Most street medicine projects in other cities are conducted in partnership with hospitals.

“The mobile medical unit will help us on our rounds,” Mercer said, noting that equipment and supplies can be stored in the unit and transported to sites visited by the street medicine teams.

“We certainly applaud all of the activity,” board chair Dr. John Holloway added.

Board member Thomas Tuttle suggested that insurers could be billed for medical services provided to homeless clients to ensure the sustainability of Project HOPE. A brief discussion ensued regarding the pros and cons of instituting a billing process.

Mercer said most homeless people now have insurance through the West Virginia Medicaid system. He said the street medicine teams try to collect documentation from people receiving treatment.

“We keep records when we’re out in the field,” Mercer said. “We’re trying to show hospitals how much we save by doing this (medical care) in the field rather than going to the (emergency room).”

Mercer said Project HOPE also is trying to provide homeless consultation for hospitals. He explained that when a homeless person is admitted to a hospital, physicians can consult with a street medicine team regarding the patient’s medical history.

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