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In Denial

A freshman high school girl visited the mobile clinic last month to get immunizations, but the nurse practitioner noticed that her abdomen was distended.  While the young teen said she’d had a recent menstrual period, the NP asked her to take a pregnancy test. It was positive, and she reacted with shock and surprise.  But like so many young girls in this situation, she had suspected she might be pregnant, but not wanted to believe it could be true.  The NP referred the girl to our social worker to start to work through the issues. First she was scheduled for a prenatal appointment that revealed she was 5 months pregnant. Now the counselor is meeting with her regularly to discuss her next steps.

What did you say?

Today an audiologist confirmed the teenager has hearing loss.  When he came to the mobile clinic for a first visit last month the NP noticed that he was having difficulty hearing. His mom said she had thought her son had a problem, but hadn’t been able to get him tested. Fortunately, within two weeks, the NP had him scheduled for a visit with the school system audiologist.  Often parents just don’t know how to navigate the system to get their kids the services that are available and needed.  So now we can start the process of lining up the supportive services this boy needs, because being able to hear what the teacher says is critical to succeeding in school.

Terrified that he’ll be next

He came to us the day after his cousin, like a brother to him, was shot and killed. It was not the first time that violence had visited the family.  The teen had two other cousins who had been shot but survived. Now he wonders if he is next.  This is a bright boy, who was doing well academically and involved in after-school activities. But he is shutting down. He won’t talk. He can’t sleep. He is sinking fast into depression.  The social worker was able to get him an appointment with Child and Adolescent Resident  from the University of Chicago, and determined that he is not currently a suicide risk.  But we are worried about him.  He is coming in now for weekly counseling sessions, and will refer him to the Emergency Department immediately if his depression worsens and suicide enters his thinking.



This program is generously supported by

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.”  

Home Institution/Affiliation 
University of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, IL
Available services 
  • Physical examinations and immunizations;
  • Management of acute and chronic illnesses;
  • Laboratory tests;
  • Screenings for nutritional risk and obesity;
  • Subspecialty referrals;
  • Adolescent services;
  • Vision and hearing testing;
  • Health education for students, teachers, and parents;
  • Psychosocial screening for adolescents;
  • Social work services including mental health screenings, triage, counseling, and mental health education; and
  • Assistance with State Child Health Insurance enrollment
Program Fact sheet