In June, a new one report from the Centers for Disease Control regarding access to therapies for Covid-19 exposed a gaping hole in our nation’s health care system. Although they have created nearly 40,000 distribution points – especially in highly vulnerable neighborhoods – these areas have the lowest distribution rates. In short, life-saving treatments exist, but the people who need them most are not getting them.
Why? Because providing more drugs does not address the underlying systemic problems that lead to health inequities.
For the wealthy, our nation’s health care system works well – or well enough. But for people in underserved communities, both urban and rural, the existing system is not delivering the right care and resources at the right time to the people who need them most. Increasing availability of quality health care does not address the barriers that prevent patients from receiving that care.
For example, most people only get paid for the hours they work. Two-thirds of low-wage workers they don’t get paid sick days and they simply can’t sacrifice hours of income to get health care. And according to American Hospital Associationmillions of Americans do not seek care because they lack access to safe and reliable transportation.
Child care provision is also out of reach for many families, so parents, especially mothers, often miss out on care that could help them. A recent study found that 2 out of 3 low-income parents missed out on medical care – even though over 48% suffered from at least one chronic illness.
The problem goes deeper than access to care during illness. Sometimes, more importantly, preventive medicine is not implemented, leading to poor health outcomes in the future. Ongoing management of conditions such as addiction or diabetes is disrupted or neglected, and conditions that can be detected and treated early, such as cancer or heart disease, are put off until some time in the future. Studies show, for example, that women with lower incomes are much less likely have regular mammograms.
It’s a vicious cycle because poor health outcomes also contribute to poor employment outcomes – meaning increased risk of poverty, stress and homelessness. Children suffer along with their parents, which perpetuates the cycle. For example, children from low-income families are diagnosed with autism eight months later than those from wealthier families—one reason is that they are you are less likely to get regular well child visits.
So where do we go from here?
As this CDC report illustrates, flooding a community with “resources” is not enough. The missing piece is connecting these resources to the people who need them. This is where mobile health clinics can make a difference. Mobile clinics mean patients in underserved communities have to jump through far fewer hoops to get high-quality care. Lots of research have shown that mobile health clinics are particularly effective in facilitating access to health care for marginalized groups, including people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ populations. Not only do they promote health equity, but they also complement other goals of health organizations, such as building trust and expanding community outreach.
There are more than two thousand mobile health clinics that provide personalized and critical services to communities that are somehow disconnected from the traditional health system. Currently, these clinics serve approx seven million Americansbut the need is much greater.
These clinics provide a wide variety of services, ranging from cancer screenings and STD testing to birth control and other pregnancy-related services. They also provide preventive care, health and wellness counseling, and referrals to employment, housing, and food resources. Patients do not need to come to us; we go to them.
Longstanding inefficiencies up and down the health care delivery chain have effectively created invisible barriers to much-needed health care. By working closely with the community to reach those most in need and build relationships of trust, we can deliver high quality care in a way that meets the needs of the whole person, no matter who they are or where they live.
Photo: Nina Shatirishvili, Getty Images