ODU Mobile Health Clinic makes formal debut

Published 9:32 pm Thursday, April 27, 2023

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The Old Dominion University School of Nursing hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, April 19, for the new ODU Mobile Health Clinic that will serve people of all ages in the Franklin and Southampton County communities.

The ceremony was held at S.P. Morton Elementary School in Franklin and was followed by the provision of services from the mobile clinic that was parked on-site.

Attending the ceremony were more than 70 people, including local elected officials and Franklin City Public Schools leaders.

An ODU media advisory noted that the ODU Mobile Health Clinic will provide free health care services to underserved, geographically isolated and medically/economically vulnerable populations in Franklin and Southampton County.

The schedule and routes of the mobile clinic will be established soon, and the vehicle has already spent time being based at S.P. Morton and Joseph P. King Jr. Middle School to serve students and people in those areas.

Franklin Mayor Robert “Bobby” Cutchins welcomed everyone to the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“The mobile bus will operate by nurse practitioners, who will provide a gamut of care delivered by students and faculty, which includes mental health, physical therapy, athletic training, dental hygiene, speech and human services,” he said. 

He noted that rural residents often encounter barriers to health care that limit their ability to obtain the care they need. 

“This vision of bringing health care to rural communities that have limited access to health care would not have been possible without a true team effort between the city of Franklin, Franklin City Public Schools and Old Dominion University,” he said. “We truly appreciate ODU making this investment in the city of Franklin. Tremendous benefits will result from the work here for the city of Franklin residents.”

Speaking next was Carolyn Rutledge, who is the associate chair of the ODU School of Nursing and a family nurse practitioner.

“I have been dreaming about this for ages,” she said, referring to the new ODU Mobile Health Clinic and the services it will make possible. “I grew up in the rural area, so I’m very accustomed to some of the barriers that we run into, and so I’ve had this vision for many, many years that we, as educators, need to get our students out into the community in order to meet the needs and learn how to take care of some of the population. So I’m honored to be here today in order to launch this dream we had.

“When I think back, it was February of last year that this was just written on a piece of paper,” she continued. “I was writing a federal grant where they realized the importance of getting out into the rural areas and of training of students in these areas.”

She said that ODU was fortunate to be one of 20 schools in the country to receive the grant award.

“And I want you to think about this — this grant was a $4 million grant that we’re investing in your community, so when we looked at where the need was, Franklin kept coming to the top, Southampton, this whole region,” she said. “And so we’re here not just to help the city but the areas right around, and we can’t do it by ourselves. We have to do it with each and every one of you, and we’ve loved, loved, loved the response we’ve gotten from this city.”

The ODU media advisory stated that the mobile clinic is funded by a federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration and will be staffed by ODU School of Nursing faculty and graduate students.

Outlining the vision of the mobile clinic, Rutledge said the bus is a way of getting out into the community to provide care for rural and underserved residents. That is one big goal of the project, and the second is to educate ODU’s health care students and allied health professional colleagues.

“The third thing that we’re looking at is we don’t believe in coming into the community and not building more of a structure, and again, this is where we need to partner with you,” she said. “We’re looking at creating a pipeline — a pipeline for your students, your kids in high school, your kids in the community college, where they can further their education.”

The mobile clinic will provide an opportunity for this as well.

“So that is deeply important to us to help you all educate your own students,” she said.

FCPS Superintendent Dr. Carlton Carter was among the other speakers during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and he also expressed enthusiasm for the mobile clinic.

“We’re going to push this aggressively to make sure that we service the community, because we’ve had challenges in the past where we’ve had students enrolled and they’ve had challenges especially during the COVID period where they could not find adequate health care to enroll into school,” he said. “And so that has been our first target — to make sure that our pre-K students are entering into the school with everything they need, and then we want to go ahead and push that through the middle school and also we want to push that through the high school where we can offer physicals and other health services.

“So I can’t express enough gratitude to Old Dominion University for coming and partnering with us,” he added. “I also want to thank the city manager, Amanda Jarratt, for saying, ‘Hey, (Dr.) Carter, I’ve got this opportunity. Do you think you want to get in?’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah.’”

Speaking later in the ceremony was Rett Haigler, regional vice president of Mission Mobile Medical, a mobile health clinic manufacturer that provides high-quality medical vehicles, including the new ODU Mobile Health Clinic.

“We’re fortunate enough to work with a transformative team at ODU,” Haigler said, listing off names of people on that team. “We’re just humbled to be involved in such an amazing program and such an amazing project.”

He noted that Mission Mobile Medical wants to be in communities just like Franklin, helping through the services that can be provided on mobile units like the new ODU clinic.

“There’s no ‘easy button’ in community health care, and these folks and you all are trying every way possible to help the people in the community with health care, and we hope that this mobile unit will be able to do that for you guys,” he said.

Jarratt spoke about her passion for quality health care at the ceremony and her excitement for the services that the new mobile clinic will provide to the community.

She also addressed the ODU clinic briefly at the Franklin City Council’s Monday, April 24, meeting.

“That is an excellent service that we’ll have available in the city, and we will publicize their schedule and routes once it’s been established,” she said.