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Each week day, the Cox CARE Mobile travels to locations across the Ozarks bringing free medical care to children in need.
The large RV, outfitted as a pediatric clinic on wheels, provides a variety of services for kids two months to 18 years. It runs on a generator so no special plug-ins are needed.
The CARE Mobile, a service of Children’s Miracle Network, began operating in 1995 with two vehicles serving mostly Springfield children. Now the bus goes to counties within a 50 mile radius of Springfield and within a 50 mile radius of Monett.
Glenda Brandon is the CARE Mobile’s clinic manager…
"This is for all of the uninsured and no insurance, so we don't turn anyone away," she said.
According to Brandon, the need for the service is growing. She says they see more kids every year…
"There's just no insurance benefits, and the benefits are not covering immunizations or doctor's visits or the deductibles are so high," she said.
Two nurse practitioners and a medical assistant provide the medical care under the supervision of physicians who are off-site.
Maryann Blevins is one of those nurse practitioners. She took a brief break away from the kids on a recent visit to Clever Schools to talk about what she does.
According to Blevins, the need is tremendous for the CARE Mobile. She says they take care of children who otherwise wouldn’t get care…
"Sometimes fractures, sometimes strep throat, sometimes immunizations, but these children would not get the care if we did not come to their community and provide it," she said.
The CARE Mobile offers things like hearing and vision tests, physical examinations, immunizations and treatment for illness. It doesn’t offer lab services but will cover the expense for parents to take their kids to get those tests done.
Blevins says, as a nurse practitioner on the CARE Mobile for nine years, she’s seen firsthand just how great the need is for free and easily accessible medical care…
"I saw a young man with a fractured arm that had had it for three days and could not get into a provider--the parents just didn't know where to go. I've seen two and a half-year-olds that have had no immunizations that should have had about 20 immunizations by that point. We see kids with asthma that are in crisis. We get them stabilized and get them into what I call healthcare homes so they have a regular provider," she said.
Blevins says the need continues to increase as more and more kids don’t have access to medical care.
"School is their safe haven. They get their food, their healthcare, their heat, their warmth. There are children out there that don't have any of that," she said.
Nicholas Brandon uses the CARE Mobile as a place to seek treatment and immunizations for his 18-month-old son Adrian.
Both Brandon and Adrian’s mom are students at Missouri State University, and money and time are precious commodities…
"The medical attention on the CARE Mobile is free so it really helps out with Medicaid, and it's really about the availability and with it being free and it's good work. You're not sitting at an ER all night waiting on--you get your kid looked at and there's other kids crying it's really quiet and it's old-fashioned like going to Grandma's house and getting fixed up, you know. You know when you leave you're gonna have some kind of light at the end of the tunnel no matter how hard it is when you go in," he said.
He’s especially impressed by the availability of care at the CARE Mobile, which makes several stops a week in various locations.
The number of kids seen on the CARE Mobile varies day by day. Marsha Baumann, who’s been driving the mobile clinic for four years, told me about her day as the generator hummed in the background…
"Today we saw some very cute little kids. They're all cute, and I got to color with some of them. Today we were doing all physicals--didn't have to give one shot," she said.
Baumann sees needs being met every time she drives to a different location. She says they’re the only source of medical care for some kids…
"We have some kids that if they didn't see us they wouldn't see anyone in the medical field. They see us or nobody, so there is a big need for it. Some of these kids are extremely poor. They don't have any access to a doctor, and since we go to them it makes it much easier for them to be seen and treated," she said.
She says, when two nurse practitioners are working, they can see 35-40 kids a day. And she says she loves her job…
"Sometimes we get kisses and hugs and sometimes we get a nice colored picture, and it makes you feel a lot better to know that they're getting some kind of treatment," she said.
Even though it can be difficult to see the needs that some kids face every day, Maryann Blevins, says, she, too, loves what she does…
The CARE Mobile is funded by donations to Children’s Miracle Network.
For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.