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Published on October 15, 2015

St. Vincent’s to ramp up homeless outreach

By Mike Ford, Clay Today

As an outgrowth of networking with Clay County community service agencies through the Mercy Network, the St. Vincent’s Mobile Health Outreach Ministry plans to increase its local presence.

The ministry currently has three monthly stops in Clay County, but Manager Stella Mouzon plans to add a fourth in January. She said she is looking at different locations, including the Springs Church on Blanding Boulevard near Orange Park and the Rodeway Inn on Park Avenue in Orange Park. Once a fourth stop is scheduled, two stops each month will focus on the displaced and homeless.

"There’s a large homeless population in Clay County, so we’re partnering with the Mercy Network to connect with that population. The members of the Mercy Network who go out to feed those people already know them and have developed trust – which is a big part of this," Mouzon said.

St. Vincent’s started the ministry in 1991 to provide free medical care to the uninsured and underinsured in five counties in metro Jacksonville. Most patients come to the medical bus by word of mouth or by referral from the health department and groups connected with the Mercy Network.

Mercy Support Services President Patrick Hale said many people are skeptical at first about the mobile clinic, but once they realize the service doesn’t have any strings attached, demand will rise.

"A high percentage of people in the network are uninsured, so whenever we’re able to refer people to their mobile unit, it’s a plus to the people we serve. At least that way, we’re able to get them some form of medical care, rather than send them to the emergency room, he said.

"They don’t want to be surprised by a fee on their follow-up visit. So, once they understand the service is entirely free, we’ll see more people using it."

The mobile unit does not stock controlled substances, but is otherwise much like a family doctor.

"We’re basically a doctor’s office on wheels for primary care, but without any controlled substances," Mouzon said. "We do lab work by sending them to the St. Vincent’s lab in Orange Park because we want them to fast. We also provide some medications for illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure because we see a lot of those, and we can’t perform X-rays, but we can provide them by referrals."

The ministry makes its rounds during the work week. Mobile Unit Primary Physician Jimmy Malaver, M.D. said serving the poor is his primary motivation for his work, so he’s happy to be part of the ministry.

"I’m the main doctor for the mobile outreach and this is my main job. I love working with this mission because I always wanted to focus on the underserved – the uninsured, the underinsured and the homeless," Malaver said. "So, it was divine providence that I came here six years ago come January because it fits me perfectly." Malaver said there have been patients whose lives were likely saved because they came to the mobile unit. "We sometimes refer them to the ER when we diagnose something like appendicitis, which is life-threatening. I’ve had others with the symptoms of heart attack and others for whom we’ve prevented major health problems by catching them early," Malaver said. He said some patients enter with advanced problems that require more specialized care. That’s when St. Vincent’s refers patients to the We Care program, which was founded more than 20 years ago by the Duval County Medical Society. "These are specialists who volunteer their time and provide MRIs, CT scans, mammograms and biopsies as needed," he said.

The mobile ministry separates its adult program from pediatrics, which fills a heavier schedule during the summer when school is not in session. Mouzon said there are private donors who support the ministry, but most of the funding is from the St. Vincent’s Foundation and the hospital pays for the rest. The hospital also supplies medical staff and Malaver said additional help comes from the nurse practitioner program at the University of North Florida.

Mobile Unit Primary Physician Jimmy Malaver, M.D., said it was divine providence that he found his way to the St. Vincent’s Mobile Health Outreach Ministry six years ago. He helps care for patients who do not have health insurance.

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