Making A Difference: Providing care to at-risk children
You may have seen the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile parked in front of a school or set up at a local event of some sort and wondered what it was doing there.
Well, the Care Mobile, a 40-foot long state-of-the art pediatric office, delivers “hope on wheels” to needy kids. A partnership between Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida and Ronald McDonald House Charities makes the work of the Care Mobile possible. And that work is partially funded by the Naples Children and Education Foundation, the generous wine festival folks.
The mission of the Care Mobile program is to improve the health status of underserved children.
While Healthcare Network has been providing dental and medical care to the uninsured and underinsured in Collier County since 1977, the wheels on the Care Mobile began rolling in 2004. Since then, the Care Mobile has provided medical and dental care to more than 27,000 at-risk children.
The Executive Director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Florida, Laura Ragain, tells us that “the Care Mobile visits schools with a high percentage of students from low income families, selected after-school programs, and a variety of family-oriented festivals and activities.”
The screenings performed during those visits include dental, hearing and vision, and growth and development, with referrals made to healthcare professionals when needed.
Amy Plassins, director of mobile operations for Healthcare Network, says that “we also encourage the children we serve to adopt healthy oral hygiene habits.” And they learn about healthy lifestyle choices.
“Establishing good oral health care at a young age can help children avoid problems such as gum disease, tooth decay and other health risks attributed to poor oral health,” says Dr. Julie Mancera-Loftin, a Healthcare Network dentist.
“For most of the children we see, this is the only time they receive dental and pediatric care,” according to Andres Gutierrez, program coordinator with Healthcare Network. And he knows this to be true from his own experience. “I once was one of those children, but unfortunately this type of program wasn’t available when I was growing up.”
Elizabeth Pineda, a mother of a patient served by the Care Mobile, is most appreciative of the care her son received. “He got his teeth sealed while at school, and I didn’t have to take time off work. I can’t imagine what parents who don’t have access to transportation or can’t take time off must go through in order to take their child to a dentist.” She feels that “the Care Mobile program breaks the barrier to care for those children.”
The Chief Operating Officer of Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, Dr. Emily Ptaszek, agrees. “This program has quite literally allowed us to physically reach more children in need by breaking down barriers to dental and medical care. Many of the families we serve lack insurance, transportation or time to travel to appointments.” She stresses that “without the mobile unit, these children would likely not have access to clinical care.”
“The Collier County School District and the Care Mobile work together to help ensure that children are healthy and ready to learn,” according to Eileen Vargo, director of health services for the district. “Making no-cost school-entry physicals available for students new to Florida who do not have the means to pay and bringing dental care to students in need are essential supports that help students stay focused on learning,” Vargo adds.
The annual fundraiser for the Care Mobile is the Southwest Florida Golf Classic which will take place on April 11, at The Club at Olde Cypress. To learn more, visit www.healthcareswfl.org.
Joe Landon is a communications consultant having retired as executive director of communications for the Collier County School District. Send suggestions for future columns to JoeLandon@Outlook.com.