A unique partnership between the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and the Mexico Border Health Commission is bringing health care to underserved residents in Maricopa County, and giving students experience working in the community.
A unique partnership between the University of Arizona and the Mexico Border Health Commission is bringing health care to underserved residents in Maricopa County, and giving students experience working in the community.
The program, “Juntos Por la Salud,” or Together For Health, offers free health services via a mobile health unit that travels to communities where there are a large number of people who are not insured or are underinsured.
A $304,200 grant from the Mexico Border Health Commission pays for costs related to the unit, which is operated by UA’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.
Cecilia Rosales, MD, MS, assistant dean and professor of the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health – Phoenix, said the mobile unit not only offers students the opportunity to learn firsthand, but it provides screenings, health education and orientation, and referral services to residents. Additionally, information gathered during the visits will generate research questions that can eventually inform policy makers and decision makers related to access to care.
“The unit is an invaluable asset and a mechanism for reaching a large population of uninsured and underinsured residents that are unaware and uninformed about services available to them,” Dr. Rosales said. “As a U.S.-Mexico border state and a border region with a high concentration of Latinos, it is important to work towards increasing access to care, health information, health education and referral services, thereby building a culture of health and healthy communities.”
Between April and August, the program has served 378 people who received a total of 4,672 screening services.
Students in UA Colleges of Public Health, Nursing, Medicine and Northern Arizona University’s Physician Assistant program gain experience at the clinics, said Eduardo Gonzalez, PhD, project coordinator. Volunteering is a great way to learn about the health necessities of the population, to interact with community-based organizations, to learn how to collaborate with colleagues from other professions and to understand the importance of providing culturally sensitive health services, he said.
Jeffery Hanna, a Master’s student in the College of Public Health – Phoenix, said he volunteers because it allows him to directly care for patients.
“I don’t need to wait four years to receive a medical degree in order to make a difference,” he said. “I can start today addressing health disparities and providing quality care to patients.”
Leslie Appleton, a second-year MD-MPH student, said working at the mobile health unit is the “perfect opportunity for me to combine my interest and skills in both medicine and public health. It's also a phenomenal opportunity for me to practice my Spanish and to work with a population that comprises a significant part of the patient population.”
The mobile unit runs yearlong, providing services throughout Maricopa County including Guadalupe, West Phoenix, South Central Phoenix, Rio Salado and the Maricopa Service Area.
The goal is to focus on screening and prevention of five diseases and risky health behaviors, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse, cancer and sexually transmitted infections. In the future, services will include cholesterol and heart disease screening, HIV and STI screening and education, vision and hearing screening and diabetic screening services.
Dr. Rosales hopes they can reach residents who would be unlikely to seek medical help in a setting such as a doctor’s office or hospital, and help them find medical homes through referrals.
“The most rewarding part of this project is reaching out to community residents that have limited information and access to public health and health care services, identifying available services that are within close proximity to their residence and helping to connect them to a medical home,” Gonzalez said.
For Marlina Mazyck, who is working on her master’s degree in the UA College of Nursing, volunteering has broadened her knowledge of community resources.
“Last May, I was able to help coordinate a health fair with the mobile unit and The Orchard Community Learning Center,” she said. It also has provided a chance to use her leadership skills. “Not only do I volunteer, I am responsible for recruiting the UA Phoenix nursing students.”
Established in 2000, the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona is the first nationally accredited college of public health in the Southwest. Today the college remains the only accredited college of public health in the State of Arizona with campuses in Tucson and Phoenix. The college enrolls more than 1,100 students per year across degree programs at the bachelor, master and doctoral levels. Through research, education, and community engagement the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health continues to find solutions to public health problems in Arizona, the southwest and globally.