LOS ANGELES — With a cut of the ribbon, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis joined community and county health care leaders to showcase their latest public health tool — a medical facility on wheels.

“It means meet the people where they are,” she said. “Go where they are. Don’t wait for them to come to you because they may not be able to travel to you.”

What You Need To Know

  • The LA Department of Health Services is launching four mobile clinics to treat people experiencing homelessness

  • Each contains two exam rooms and 15 staff members, capable of providing a wide range of primary and urgent care as well as mental health services

  • The trucks will rotate between encampments throughout the county

  • DHS hopes to build relationships with the unhoused and prevent chronic conditions from becoming life-threatening

It’s one of four medical trucks operated by the LA County Department of Health Services. Each contains two exams rooms, capable of providing primary and urgent care along with medication and basic imaging.

“It’s incredibly difficult and really unreasonable to expect that people experiencing homelessness are always going to be able to come to a clinic, and because of that, they just don’t get their medical needs met,”said county DHS director Dr. Christina Ghaly

The units will also perform lab work, reproductive care and ultrasounds.

“We can do cervical cancer screening with pap smears, which is really impossible for our patients,” said Dr. Absalon Galat, medical director of LA County’s mobile clinic and street medicine program.

The trucks will park at certain sites near homeless encampments, and then there will be shuttle vans to help bring people to the mobile clinic.

Ghaly says her team has had the idea for a while, but COVID-19 was the catalyst, and it also provided them with the necessary funding to make the program a reality.

“This is a new model of care that we think is much more patient centered, much more innovative that brings services to people where they are, can build relationships over time.”

And it’s those relationships she says are the key to the program’s success.

“I lived in Skid Row for 8 years in a doorway,” said Lorraine Morland, who is now a Skid Row advocate. “You have a lot of women that are pregnant on Skid Row. They don’t even know it. You have a lot of people that are diabetic, pre-diabetic, and they don’t even know it, and they need medication.”

“In most people’s mind, they’re thinking that people experiencing homelessness are dying from pneumonia or some acute thing, but that’s not the case,” said Ghaly. “They’re passing away very early from treatable, chronic conditions.”

DHS plans to have the trucks return to the same location every other week to build a rapport and improve their visibility. Morland says many living on the street are scared of doctors and don’t trust them, but the county’s biggest ally could be a positive experience and word of mouth.

“They’ll see their friends went in there or something, and then they’ll say, ‘Oh girl, this was good. This was popping, girl. I feel better,’” Morland said.

The medical clinic on wheels is ready to provide hope and healing for those with nowhere else to turn.