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Detroit clinic goes mobile, offers prenatal services in refurbished ambulance

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

As the coronavirus pandemic has changed the standards for medical centers across the state, one Detroit clinic has gone mobile to help women with prenatal care. 

Nurse Tiffany Burrell tends to a patient in the  Luke Clinic's mobile facility

Using a converted ambulance truck, the Luke Project 52 Clinic on Whittaker Street goes around Detroit and to surrounding suburbs to offer free mobile, medical services for low-income and high-risk mothers. 

"(We've) been realizing how helpful our ambulances been because there are some moms, just because of COVID, don't want to come out and come to clinic, but if we can go to them, that has also helped," said Katherine Gold, associate professor of family medicine at Michigan Medicine and the clinic's medical director. 

All of the services the clinic offers, including prenatal, postpartum and infant care, is free of charge. 

The mobile care unit is composed of a team of two nurses, an ultrasonographer and a driver who travels once a week to see about three to five patients. The staff drives to a patient's home or workplace for testing, prenatal care, postpartum checkups and newborn care. 

The mobile care unit was made possible by a funding from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in February. In the outreach vehicle's first month of service, the team visited 67 patients. 

"They care about you. They love you. They love your kids. And they make sure you're OK, and even in the middle of the night, they answer their phones for you and just make sure you're doing the right things with parenting and things like that," said Heavenlee Gordon, a patient who had two children with the help of the Luke Clinic, in a news release. "The other doctors didn't do that for me."

"They care about you," says Heavenlee Gordon, a Luke Clinic patient.

In addition to the mobile services, mothers can visit the clinic in person or have their appointments over a video call. 

The clinic is only opened on the first and third Thursday of every month. For any care that patients may need care in between, the clinic sends them to local hospitals. 

Since the clinic is free, most of the staff works on a volunteer basis. Volunteers include nurses, nurse-midwives, administrative staff from the University of Michigan's Michigan Medicine, a pediatrician from C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, and four physicians and several residents from Michigan Medicine's Department of Family Medicine. 

"There’s a safety net set up for people in poverty but there are people who still fall through the holes of that net. … We really are the safety net for people who fall through the main safety net," Gold said.

Like many other establishments, the Luke Clinic took a big hit from the pandemic. Services that were previously offered such as the Detroit Health Department's immunization services, social work, insurance navigators, doulas and lactation consultants, are no longer offered.

While Gold said they're not sure when those services will be offered again, the clinic uses the donations and small grants it's funded by to continue offering at-risk moms help. 

Luke Clinic medical director Katherine Gold, left, and co-founder Brad Garrison, the executive director.

Housed in a refurbished church, the Luke Clinic was founded four years ago by Brad Garrison, a pharmacist and reverend, and his wife, Sherie Garrison, a high-risk labor and delivery nurse at Michigan Medicine, to address the high rates of infant mortality in Detroit. 

"We lost a grandson who was stillborn, and we began looking at the issue of why babies die before their first birthday in the state of Michigan," Garrison said in a release.