Several rituals mark the end of summer in Chicago’s Southside neighborhoods. Labor Day picnics, shopping for back-to-school notebooks and binders, one last game of pick up on the playground. And every year like clockwork, the Chicago programs mobile medical clinic arrives to make sure hundreds of elementary and high school students get all their vaccines, pass their sports physicals and start the school ready to learn.
At these August and September visits, the Chicago program also seeks out those children who lack insurance, lack transportation or face other obstacles to finding and receiving year-round quality medical care. For these children, the mobile clinic offers ongoing comprehensive primary care, including treatment for acute and chronic illnesses, laboratory services, mental health counseling, and connections to other medical specialists. The program’s doctor, nurse practitioners, social worker and two drivers collaborate with over 30 schools to bring services to approximately 1,000 children and youth ages 3-19 each year. By bringing the mobile clinic directly to schools, “we catch children and teenagers who have not been able to get a doctor’s care, other than in an emergency room, in a long time,” notes medical director, Dr. Icy Cade-Bell.
Over 30% of children in Chicago live in poverty, and rates are even higher on the Southside. Children in this overwhelmingly poor, African-American community suffer from a high prevalence of asthma, obesity and mental health challenges, as do many of their peers in low-income neighborhoods throughout the country.
In addition to providing quality medical care, the program runs health education programs year-round with its school partners. Its social worker also helps schools fill a huge gap in mental health services, especially for adolescents. Over her 13 years in mental health care, she too has become adept at overcoming obstacles. When young people are reticent to get help, she keeps trying. “Showing young people that you truly care and are concerned enough to persist …really pays off.”