January 30, 2014 at 11:30 am

Mobile units take care right to kids

Tanisha Jones checks the blood pressure of Derrick Jenkins, 7, aboard a mobile clinic outside Dixon elementary school. (Photos by Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)

When Dr. Elliott Attisha started a mobile health clinic at Detroit Public Schools three years ago, it didn’t take long to figure out prescriptions weren’t getting filled.

He gave one little girl a prescription for asthma, then re-examined her in two weeks.

“She wasn’t moving any air whatsoever. She said she hadn’t gotten her medicine,” Attisha recalls. “She said ‘We don’t have a car.’ That’s when we started the prescription delivery program.”

Now, kids are handed a bag at the end of the school day containing their asthma medication. Parents, who sign consent forms for medical treatment, get a follow-up call about what happened at the doctor’s appointment and the medicine that was sent home.

The mobile health clinic is run by the Children’s Health Project of Detroit, a partnership between Henry Ford Health System and the New York City-based Children’s Health Fund, co-founded by singer Paul Simon and Columbia University professor Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician and public health advocate. The project also receives support from Molina Healthcare and the Michigan Department of Community Health.

It’s among dozens of Detroit projects run by hospital systems, nonprofits and foundations improving health and safety for kids, and they’re finding innovative ways around obstacles that have stymied progress in the past.

St. John Providence Health System runs nine school-based clinics in Detroit Public Schools, each staffed by a nurse, a medical assistant and a mental health professional.

The 38-foot mobile clinic is a full pediatric office on wheels, with a laboratory, refrigerator, exam rooms and an office. A second mobile unit was added last year with help from the WK Kellogg Foundation.

A pediatrician, Attisha is employed by Henry Ford Health System, which runs six school-based clinics in Detroit, staffed by nurses and medical assistants. The mobile clinics visit various schools on different days of the week.

The mobile clinics try to provide a “medical home” for Detroit kids, where their health care is managed by a team that includes nurses working at Henry Ford Health System’s in-school clinics.

“These nurses are able to do previsit intakes, to triage kids throughout the week, so when we show up with our mobile clinic, we can do so much more,” Attisha said.

“If necessary, the nurse can reach out to us and say the child can’t wait until tomorrow, and if not, we can bring the child over to where the mobile clinic is that day to be seen.”

The Children’s Health Fund has mobile health clinics in a number of the nation’s largest cities, including Miami, Orlando, San Francisco, Austin, Chicago and New York. They often serve homeless children, but some provide medical care to children in rural areas with little access to medical care.

In Detroit, Attisha noticed many children are responsible for taking their own medicines. So their medicine bags come with pictorial instructions that a child can easily understand.

A picture of the sun or moon is placed next to a photo of the medicine to indicate if it’s to be taken in the morning or at night.

Smiley and sad faces say if the medicine should be taken every day or only when the child doesn’t feel well.

Charneka Jackson, medical assistant, walks a student from the mobile ... (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)