Mobile clinics bring vaccines to workers in rural communities

Mon, 09/27/2021 – 13:36 (U of M story link)

The Tri-Valley Opportunity Council has been serving the migrant farmworker community for 40 years and, in partnership with the Mobile Health Initiative at the University of Minnesota, offers mobile health clinics in rural areas.

These areas are home to hardworking migrants and immigrants whose contributions to the agricultural industry and the greater community are impossible to quantify. Unfortunately, many of these workers and their families experience health inequities and barriers to accessing healthcare.

The mobile health clinics were originally started to provide preventive and acute care for families without health insurance, 90% of whom are living in poverty. After receiving questions from families, the clinics mobilized to provide COVID-19 vaccines, which helped workers overcome barriers like work schedules, transportation, and language. 

Building trust among workers

According to Shelly Goddard, BSN, RN, PHN, health services specialist for the council, these clinics are effective because they are a trusted space. “If we have [the vaccine] at our center and we call them, and we’re speaking their language, then it’s just so much easier for them to ask questions,” she said.

Maggie Eckerstorfer, lead coordinator for the Mobile Health Initiative, agreed. “I really credit [their success] to the trust that Tri-Valley has built in the population,” she said. “These are some of the most well attended health fairs I have seen.”

By building on that established trust, much of the stress and fear surrounding vaccination can be alleviated and community members are able to make an informed decision about COVID-19 vaccination.

Making vaccines convenient

By offering vaccines at convenient locations and times, the clinics improve community access to vaccines. “We try to do them later into the evenings after they’ve picked up their children from Headstart, [which is] after the day shift and before the night starts,” Eckerstorfer said, referring to a popular early childhood program in Minnesota.

The clinics are frequently held under a tent, which offers flexibility in location. Both Eckerstorfer and Goddard emphasized the importance of creating a safe, welcoming environment. By offering food and making the clinics a social event, people are encouraged to come with their families and friends, further increasing access to vaccines.

Expanding to other health services

While mobile health clinics are a successful model for providing COVID-19 vaccines, their impact also expands to a wide array of health services and education. “We’re always trying to add on additional health services because during quarantine people weren’t able to see their primary care providers or don’t have primary care providers,” said Eckerstorfer.

“Beyond doing the vaccines or doing acute care we really hope to educate and really provide families with health literacy,” Goddard added. 

Both Goddard and Eckerstorfer emphasized the importance of these essential services regardless of a pandemic and the need to maintain and build upon them in the future.

The potential of mobile health

The partnership between the Mobile Health Initiative and Tri-Valley Opportunity Council is a connection that fosters trust and respect. Assisting with the COVID-19 response is only a small part of the role mobile health clinics play. Now with COVID-19 vaccinations well underway, there is great potential to continue building on the mobile health model to provide a wide array of health services to Minnesota’s farmworkers. “I definitely see an interest for people to be using mobile care beyond just vaccinations,” Eckerstorfer said.