Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics (SBNC) put an exam room on wheels. Well, it’s actually two private exam rooms, a bathroom, vaccine storage, and a whole host of medical equipment for checking up on the people who can’t make it out to a clinic themselves.
It’s a rudimentary but ingenious suggestion to solve a complex problem: If people can’t come to the clinic, why not bring the clinic to them?
The nonprofit’s new “Medical and Behavioral Health Mobile Unit” — as well as a separate van for dentistry that’s still in the works — will be hitting the streets this fall to do exactly that.
The $300,000 mobile unit (paid for by one anonymous donor) will reach schools across Santa Barbara and Goleta, as well as senior centers, health fairs, agricultural sites, and other locations. It’ll be staffed by a medical provider, medical assistant, behavioral health specialist, and a nurse — employees transferred from their small Integrated Care Clinic on Anapamu Street that closed a few months ago.
“We’re going to be reaching out to the community, and it’s going to be a different industry for us, but I think we’re all ready for this,” said Eva Bretado, the clinic’s manager, at their ribbon-cutting event on Thursday.
Dr. Mahdi Ashrafian, SBNC CEO, said there is a great need for behavioral health services in Santa Barbara’s schools, complicated by the fact that many parents in the area work full-time.
No matter how doting they are, if a parent is working long hours just to put food on the table, their child’s mental health, and sometimes physical health, can still end up being discounted or ignored. Some parents struggle to find the time, and money, for non-urgent medical appointments.
“Young children can go unnoticed, and unfortunately, sometimes, untreated,” Ashrafian said. “We want to change that…. We want to remove those barriers; we want to take the clinic and our care to the school, and just be there for the students.”
Inside Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinic’s new Medical and Behavioral Health Mobile Unit | Credit: Callie Fausey
But the clinic will also park its services at shelters to help unhoused populations, as well as underserved neighborhoods where SBNC does not have a permanent clinic, and will be deployed in areas affected by natural disasters and emergencies. As a nonprofit and federally qualified and funded health center, care is provided regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. Fees are on a sliding scale, based on the patient’s income, with some patients paying little or nothing for their services.
“It’s uncharted territory, because there’s so much we can do,” Ashrafian added. “Wherever there is need, we can provide it.”