OCEAN PARK — Come August, health care will be rolling on the Westside.

At least, that’s what the Westside Family Health Center hopes will happen with its brand new mobile health clinic that will be coming off the assembly line in coming months.

The mobile unit, paid for using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus bill, cost $250,000, and is under construction right now in Perris, Calif., a process which takes anywhere from six to eight months to complete, said Debra A. Farmer, president and CEO of Westside Family Health Center.

The Ford F Series motorhome chassis fits two complete exam rooms, outfitted with a small lab, vaccine freezer, refrigerator, clinician area and a small waiting room.

It will also have a wheelchair lift and bathrooms built to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, said Mary Hall, a spokeswoman for University Specialty Vehicles, the company that’s building the vehicle.

The company is working on a full exterior graphic wrap that will be colorful and “cute,” Hall said in a phone message.

Adding a mobile unit to the center’s toolkit will expand its ability to extend services to low-income families that don’t have the time or resources to make the trip to the center.

“People don’t understand that freeways act as mountain ranges in Los Angeles,” Farmer said. “It’s really hard. Even though we have this massive transit system, taking two or three buses when you have kids with you is difficult.”

Much of the center’s work away from its Ocean Park Boulevard clinic has focused on education, but without the facilities to provide clinic services, it had hit a wall on what it could do to benefit the community.

At the same time, the lagging economy reduced donations and increased demand, usually by the most needy who were also seeing their bus services decreased by budget cuts.

With the new unit, center employees can make trips to schools, churches, day labor sites or make other arrangements to go where they’re needed, Farmer said.

Schools could benefit from the services, particularly with new requirements that high school students get their tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine before the administration will give them their class schedules.

“Wouldn’t that be easier, with us sitting outside of the school for the last week in August or the first week in September?” Farmer said. “They could just go to the mobile clinic and get it.”

The health center is in talks to get agreements in place with a variety of agencies to provide health services on-site, which could include providing reproductive health resources to local middle schools, according to school health officials.

It already has signed agreements with St. Joseph Center, Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles and the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center.

Farmer hopes to get the mobile clinic up and running by August.

It’s been a long time coming. Westside Family Health Center did three months of research prior to applying for the grant to make sure it was worthwhile for both the community and the center.

A year after the grant was awarded, in September 2010, the center actually put the project out to bid.

“We did a lot of research,” Farmer said.

Their quest for information took them to San Diego, Ventura and Orange county health clinics to get information on what services were offered and how the mobile clinics fit into the wider picture of each health center.

The clinic was supposed to be up and running by now, but unusually heavy snows in Detroit over the winter stalled the delivery of the chassis, which Universal Specialty Vehicles needed to begin construction on the medical unit.

In the meantime, Westside managed to secure more funding to not only hold onto its staff — which was looking dicey — but also to hire five more and retain a nurse and doctor.

Some of those staff will be manning the mobile clinic.

According to the center’s website, the stimulus grant covered just the purchase price of the medical mobile unit. It’s actively seeking funding partners to cover additional costs of the vehicle, like maintenance or fuel.


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