Mobile Health Clinic Makes First Stop In Braddock
By Kaitlyn Nuebel
This summer, Brother’s Brother Foundation parked its mobile health van outside Allegheny Health Network’s Urgent Care Center in Braddock, PA for its inaugural Mobile Health Clinic. Equipped with an exam chair, a phoropter, a working sink, and even air conditioning, the back of the van has been transformed into an ophthalmologist’s office – only this one can move.
Dr. Jenny Yu, a practicing oculoplastic surgeon and co-founder of the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Project Theia, spent the day welcoming patients for individual, full eye exams and diabetic eye screenings. BBF partner Mission Vision attended Braddock’s Mobile Health Clinic to provide glasses at no cost to patients, and Allegheny Health Network and Highmark Wholecare organized follow up medical appointments.
The response to the clinic was tremendous. Prior to the van’s arrival, patients with diabetes or other vision-related issues were contacted to ask if they would be interested in a free appointment at the clinic. All appointment slots available for the Mobile Health Clinic were filled, and organizers said they knew of additional patients who could benefit from the service.
“Patients were very excited to get on board and have this appointment done, versus waiting for an appointment with a specialist that was mostly booking [months] out,” said Ashley Houston, a staff member at Braddock’s Urgent Care Center.
Doctors encourage diabetes patients to receive a retinal exam at least once a year to prevent the consequences of irreversible vision loss, though most patients who visited the Mobile Health Clinic hadn’t had an eye exam in a couple of years.
“When you can’t see you can’t function,” Dr. Yu says.
Yu started Project Theia alongside fellow oculoplastic surgeon Dr. Katherine Duncan in 2017. Their mission was to bring healthcare to underserved global communities, embarking on mission trips in Ghana and Honduras. When the COVID-19 pandemic limited international travel in 2020, the organization focused its efforts on needs in Pittsburgh. Yu reached out to BBF, who in turn, provided a van equipped with medical instruments.
Braddock was an appropriate location for the first clinic. Residents there face many obstacles to receiving healthcare. In 2010, UPMC closed its 277,000 square-ft. hospital on Braddock Avenue and left the community in what local primary care physician Dr. Stephanie Miller calls a healthcare desert. Miller is one of two primary care physicians who see patients at Forbes Family Medicine, which is in the same building as Braddock’s Urgent Care Center. Often, she treats the overflow of patients from the Urgent Care Center and the Braddock Family Health Center down the street.
“[Patients] have a tough time getting in to see specialists because of their low-income insurance and lack of transportation,” Houston said. She works closely with patients to schedule referrals and make sure they have transportation to get to their appointments. In cases where they do have an appointment scheduled with a specialist, she said many rely on transportation services such as Access or Heritage Community Transportation, which can make traveling there take over an hour, plus waiting time.
The Mobile Health Clinic provided the easy access to medical care Braddock residents hadn’t experienced in more than ten years.
“We’re just trying to meet people where they are,” Yu says. “At the end of the day it’s just about showing people you care.”