The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a resolution to move forward with plans for a “mobile health unit” — a bus that would deliver the COVID-19 vaccine and other health care services to underserved communities in the county.
"This is bringing access to public health, to communities with trusting partners, and bringing the help to the people, versus the people trying to find the help," said Commissioner Alice Reece, who has been among the idea's strongest advocates.
The concept came from Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, which already has its own mobile health unit. Reece traveled to the university over the weekend to see how their unit operates; she returned excited about the possibility of reaching Hamilton County minority communities that lack easy access to health care and people who cannot physically travel to the doctor's office on their own.
Although delivering the COVID-19 vaccine is local leaders' foremost priority now, Reece and others anticipated situations in which a mobile health unit would be useful far into the future.
"It will be significant and it will be transformative," said Joe Mallory, president of the Cincinnati NAACP, of his own hopes for the project. "And it can be used for multiple purposes to address these barriers that exist in the community."
Tuesday's resolution instructs the county to look for a source of funding that would pay for the mobile health unit for three years.
Hampton university's health unit costs about $500,000. Reece said the Health Collaborative — a Cincinnati-based organization that helps health care groups coordinate large-scale projects and pool resources — has about $8 million to fund projects like this on a local level.
"We have to work on mapping out timing because we've got to get the vehicle, get moving, so it'll be turned over to the administration to move forward," Reece said.
Earlier this month, Hamilton County officials used a van to vaccinate 60 people in Woodlawn. Hamilton County Public Health had purchased the van in November with CARES Act dollars, and Reece said she was immediately enthusiastic about finding other ways to bring health care into neighborhoods where Hamilton County residents live.
She said she hopes the mobile health unit will hit the road in April.