We’re revealing the winning design of our Lake County Asthma Van decal design contest next week! Our three finalists are all incredible designers from both Chicago and Lake County areas! Today, meet Morgan Garleff, Chicago-based graphic designer.
Tell us about yourself: who are you, what do you do! I’m Morgan Garleff! A freelance graphic designer based in Chicago, originally from Michigan. I am a multi-discipline designer that specializes in brand identities. I am really passionate about design as well as art, music, culture and fashion. When I’m not traveling or at home with my partner and our cat Pepper, I’m thrifting and going to estate sales. I run a small vintage business on the side with one of my best friends (check us out @aukershop).
How did you learn about Mobile Care Chicago? What parts of MCC resonate with you the most?
I have friends that work for Mobile Care and some that have worked with them creatively in the past. I’ve been to some fundraising events and really was impressed by the organization. MCC resonates with me because they are providing really important services to those who really need it. It is providing solutions and communicating effectively to larger issues communities are facing.
What inspired your decal design?
My van design was inspired by the abundance of health care when many work together. I used the overlapping colors and shapes as a way to convey the endless possibilities for all seeking care and what incredible things that can happen when we receive it.
What is your favorite Chicago neighborhood and why? I don’t know if I have a favorite, they are all unique and cool in their own way!
Favorite Chicago spots? Museum of Contemporary Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Cultural Center, Mia Mora (Everyone go here!), Store B Vintage, any Village Discount Outlet, Vintage House Chicago (Locations and dates always changing) Lula Cafe, Doma Cafe, any Foxtrot (the one on milwaukee is my favorite), Merz Apothecary, HaiSous, Jimmy Beans, Gather, Same Day Cafe, there are so many others!
As an artist/designer, where have you been finding inspiration lately? Are there any artists we should check out?
I just traveled to New Orleans and took way too many photos of old signage on buildings, store-fronts and these really beautiful tiles that have the street names on the sidewalks. I’m always trying to find typography inspiration in the wild as well as interesting type character design. Recently, I’ve found a female type designer named
Margot Lévêque (@margot.leveque) who I am a big fan of.
What are you working on now? Where can we find your work/socials?
Some various freelance branding and packaging projects, but always trying to find new work! You can find my work on my website at morgangarleff.com or my instagram @morgangarleff.
Tell us about yourself: who are you, what do you do!
My name is Jess and I’m a graphic designer and musician in the band Tenci.
What parts of MCC resonate with you the most?
I really admire how Mobile Care provides children accessible asthma and dental care in a way that feels really inviting. They travel around the Chicagoland area to meet kids where they’re at, adding another layer of care that is often overlooked. Many families don’t have the time or income to make regularly scheduled doctor’s appointments, and Mobile Care hasn’t forgotten about those people. In a city where many people’s basic needs aren’t met, they give me hope that we can work within our communities to help each other get the care we need.
What inspired your decal design?
I felt really inspired by the “artists of the wall” murals painted on the Rogers Park lakefront benches. These murals have a vibrant, childlike playfulness to them and a communal feeling that I’m really drawn to. I’m sure there are many children who are nervous about receiving medical care, and I wanted to create a design that felt really welcoming and imaginative.
What is your favorite Chicago neighborhood and why?
Rogers Park! I’ve lived in 8 different neighborhoods since I’ve lived in Chicago, and I feel most at ease here. Being a 10 minute walk to the lake is the biggest perk for me, but also all of the good food and art around me, and generally the community here feels very generous.
Favorite Chicago spots?
I feel like this changes every year, but currently – Montrose Bird Sanctuary, West Ridge Nature Park, Garfield Conservatory, Anto Pizza & Pasta, any of the beaches in Rogers Park / Edgewater, Glenwood Farmers Market in the spring and summer
As an artist/designer, where have you been finding inspiration lately? Are there any artists we should check out 👀
I’ve recently been reading a lot of interviews/articles on The Creative Independent and have been feeling really moved by all of the different ways artists move through the world. I also have lots of talented friends who are constantly creating and I’m always inspired by the things they make. Check out: Nicolette Lim, Aki Takebayashi, Earl Mitchell & October Garner
What are you working on now? Where can we find your work/socials?
Currently I’m working on printing my first coloring book! You can find my work at jess-shoman.com and my IG is @tenci.band
Big things are happening in 2023. At the start of the new year, we announced that we are expanding into Lake County in partnership with the Christopher D. Redding Youth Asthma Foundation, founded by Mike and Helen Redding. It was important that we share Mike and Helen’s story in their own words – read on to learn about their journey and how they first connected with MCC!
Tell us your story- how did CDRYAF come to be? In November 2003, our youngest son Christopher passed away, at age 18, from a fatal exercise induced asthma attack while jogging near our home, just hours before returning to college (Drake University) later in the afternoon. It was only the second asthma attack suffered by Christopher in his life time…the first occurred just one year previously while he was running track at a high school meet. Christopher’s untimely death revealed to us how little we knew about asthma—we thought that the first asthma attack was an isolated event; after all, Christopher was strong of mind and body, spending much of his time in the weight room at Lake Zurich High School!
Determined that no other family should undergo a senseless tragedy due to a lack of education about asthma, the CDRYAF was formed to provide asthma screenings, asthma management education to youth, families, athletic personnel and communities, access to recreational opportunities (such as asthma camps) for youth with asthma, and college scholarships to graduating high school student athletes with a diagnosed case of asthma. CDRYAF also advocates for legislative changes for improved asthma management policies such as standardized asthma management protocols and stock albuterol to assist asthma exacerbations while students are in school.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves…. As 38-year residents of Lake County (Lake Zurich), the Redding Family and its 9-year old community based charitable organization, hold strong ties in Lake County. The Christopher D. Redding Youth Asthma Foundation received its 501(c)(3) designation in 2014 and launched operations in 2015. The Foundation is governed by a 9-member Board of Directors and operated primarily with the assistance of our working Board of Directors, volunteers, and collaborating partners. Our programs include asthma screenings and management, asthma management education (workshops and health fairs), college scholarships to graduating high school student-athletes with a diagnosed case of asthma, and advocacy for improved asthma management policies in Illinois schools.
On a personal note, we are the proud parents of three sons (Paul, Michael Jr., and Christopher), grandparents of six grandchildren and great grandparents of one grandson.
Helen is the Founder of the Christopher D. Redding Youth Asthma Foundation. She spent more than 42 years in the banking industry and retired as a Senior Vice President from Citigroup, Illinois in 2013. Helen is actively involved in community and civic activities as a proud member of both Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated and The Links, Incorporated.
Michael Sr. is the Co-Founder of the Christopher D. Redding Youth Asthma Foundation and also retired after spending more than 40 years in Telecommunications and Food manufacturing industries.
We’d love to get to know Christopher! Christopher was a 3-sport scholar-athlete, honor student, and Captain of the Lake Zurich High School Football team where he led his team to the IHSA Class 7A semi-finals. Christopher played the position of running back, and was the second highest rusher and scorer in the school’s history. Active in high school athletics, Christopher was also a member of the Wrestling and Track teams. While Christopher was undoubtedly a gifted athlete, Lake Zurich High School alumni, coaches, and teachers remember Christopher most as a person of strong character and leadership ability.
Christopher was a member of the National Honor Society and volunteered with Lake Zurich High School’s peer mediation and mentoring program. He was elected Homecoming King during his Senior year of high school. Following his graduation from Lake Zurich High School in 2003, Christopher attended Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa where he majored in Business Administration and was a member of the football team.
Christopher was not only an outstanding student-athlete who did not smoke cigarettes nor drink alcohol but was a young man of faith who studied his Bible and worshipped God. Immediately upon enrolling in college at Drake University, Christopher joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes which is a national organization. A few of Chris’ hobbies were computer technology, social media, playing video games with his many friends, and dancing at some of the local dance clubs. Some of Chris’s long-term goals were to play college football along with playing in the NFL and eventually forming his own software company.
What are your proudest accomplishments since launching CDRYAF and why? We started our Foundation to help other families avoid the same tragedy as ours, so educating families and advocating for asthma-friendly policies for those families in underserved communities have been among our proudest accomplishments. This is Christopher’s legacy!
How and when did you first meet Matt and the Mobile Care Chicago team? We first met Matt in 2014 when he served as a Program Manager for Mobile Care Foundation. My vision to start a Foundation to help youth in underserved communities began with educating myself and conducting a great deal lot of research on asthma and asthma disparities in many zip codes in the Chicago area. We are talking months of research which taught me that barriers to medical ac cess was one of the greatest issues for youth in underserved communities who were using hospital emergency departments as their primary care physicians!
My great idea…why not take the medical access to the youth in those communities…meet the kids where they are…start a mobile asthma van! My research led me to an already existing Mobile Asthma Van…Mobile Care Foundation! I called Matt and requested a meeting to learn more! Matt was very gracious, informative, and gave me all the time I needed to learn about and understand the Mo bile Asthma Van program, which became my dream and long-term vision! We became partners with Mobile Care, assisting with screenings and asthma management education to schools and community groups located in underserved communities, and even “borrowing” the Mobile Asthma Van for our planned community events. Mobile Care was our first partner and has been the best partner for a small, emerging organization like the Christopher D. Redding Youth Asthma Foundation since that first meeting. We were always treated with dignity, respect, and equally even though we were newly formed and much smaller. So, when the opportunity came to collaborate on acquiring and operating a Mobile Van jointly, it was the realization of our dream!
What made you want to continue working with MCC? As noted above, the kindness, dignity, and respect with which we have always been treated; the cooperation to achieve mutual goals of stamping out asthma in underserved communities, and the willingness to always assist the CDRYAF when needed! Working with Mobile Care will assist our mutual goals….CDRYAF benefitting from the 22-years of expertise of Mobile Care operating mobile clinics and Mobile Care benefitting from CDRYAF’s community ties in the Lake County area.
Tell us a little more about the Lake County’s need for accessible health services- How will launching a mobile unit impact your foundation and community? With assistance from the University of Chicago ACHIEVE program, we recently conducted an assessment of asthma in the Lake County area. We received data indicating the severity of asthma in Waukegan, Zion, North Chicago and other communities in Lake County. Launching a mobile van in Lake County will assist in mitigating these issues as we eliminate barriers to medical access and pro vide specialist care which will allow youth in these underserved communities to control their asthma, reduce emergency department visits, and improve school absenteeism and missed work days for parents and guardians.
What is your ultimate goal with CDRYAF? Our goals are to own and operate a mobile van that serves families in underserved communities in the Chicago Metropolitan area while also providing asthma education and promoting asthma aware ness and prevention. Long-range goals also include sponsoring or operating an asthma camp where youth can learn to manage their asthma in a fun learning environment.
What are you most excited about for 2023? Working with Mobile Care Chicago which has a proven history of success.
I’m thrilled to announce that Mobile Care Chicago is launching a new Asthma Van in 2023, dedicated to delivering asthma and allergy care to children in Lake County! The Lake County Asthma Van, which is slated for launch in February 2023, is our first full-time mobile clinic based outside of the Chicago area. The mobile unit is a collaborative project between our staff and the Christopher D. Redding Youth Asthma Foundation, a charitable organization based in Lake County.
Mobile Care Chicago’s journey into Lake County began over 10 years ago. Thanks to funding from the Healthcare Foundation of Northern Lake County, MCC conducted an extensive needs assessment of Lake County in 2010 and 2011. The data strongly suggested that pediatric asthma specialists were not available for families who were on Medicaid or were uninsured. Furthermore, families faced similar access barriers to those in Chicago: long distances to reach adequate medical care, inability to take time off of work, dependence on urgent/emergency care, and clinics that charged large fees for appointments. A lot has happened since 2011, but the basic reality expressed in our report, unfortunately, has not substantially changed.
Over my tenure at MCC, we’ve repeatedly tried to launch a Lake County Asthma Van, only for funding or infrastructure to stop us in our tracks. As you likely know, a full-time mobile unit costs about $400,000 per year to operate, and MCC takes sustainability very seriously. We do not want to enroll someone in medical care for a chronic condition if we are not confident that we will be able to sustain their good health year-over-year for the length of their childhood.
I was blessed to meet Helen and Mike Redding in 2014, when they were also looking to launch an Asthma Van. Since that time, we’ve worked together on many education and awareness projects. Neither of our two organizations could sustain a Lake County Asthma Van on our own, but together we have been fortunate enough to secure funding for the new mobile unit, as well as the first year of expenses. It would take too long in this message to introduce Helen and Mike in a way that would do justice to their incredible passion for this project, as well as the years of effort they’ve put into making this dream a reality. The achievement of launching this mobile unit carries greater meaning for having brought it to fruition together.
We are already reaching out to school districts in Lake County to let them know that free, high quality asthma and allergy care will soon be available. I know some folks on this email thread have connections to school districts in Lake County, and if you think your school district could benefit I’d appreciate if you’d email me so we can talk. Our initial focus is Waukegan, North Chicago, and Zion, but I recognize that the need is much greater than that and I look forward to speaking with schools, hospital systems, and primary care offices who may be looking for a place to make referrals. Finally, thank you for your support! As I said, this project is the fulfillment of over a decade of work, not to mention the 23 years during which your contributions allowed us to create our nationally-recognized model of care. On behalf of everyone here at Mobile Care Chicago, thanks for making it all possible.
It would be nearly impossible to work with schools without a school representative, and in most cases our point person is the school nurse. We started working with Nurse Conway in 2014. She is an integral part of our model-of-care and why we’re able to reach so many students in the South Suburbs. She is also the first person we call when we’re going to try something new and innovative – she was involved in Lung Fest, COVID testing/vaccination, implementing universal consent forms, and launching home environment assessments. All of our clinics team appreciate the hard work Nurse Conway does to make our school visits run smoothly!
We asked Nurse Conway for her perspective on MCC and the importance of accessible care:
Why is having easy access to health services important? Easy access to health services is critical to the well-being of our students. It would be fabulous if all of our families had equal access to health services at the same level. Unfortunately, that is not our reality for various reasons. Having services available at school through Mobile Care levels the playing field for all students which ultimately has a direct impact on learning. If we are able to close that gap by providing critical health care services, our students will be able to perform at their highest capacity.
How has Mobile Care positively impacted your students?
Since partnering with Mobile Care Chicago, our district has been positively impacted in various ways. For instance, our students now have access to services earlier in development during those critical years of growth. They are able to be monitored by a service that can follow them and intervene with a medical plan if necessary. Our students are now spending less time out of school because their needs are being met through the services mobile care provides. We have also seen a steady increase in medical compliance as mandated by ISBE. Students that are in need are scheduled for an appointment on the mobile van and are brought up to date with all the necessary medical requirements for their grade levels.
What makes Mobile Care an ideal organization to work beside?
It has been a pleasure to work with the staff from Mobile Care Chicago! They are flexible, reliable and consistent. They are here on their scheduled days on time. They are always professional and knowledgeable. They have been flexible over the years and just always willing to make sure that at the end of their day, they have provided the services that parents have consented to with the highest level of quality. They have made my job as a school nurse that much more rewarding!
What health service do you wish more students could easily access on a van like Mobile Care’s?
Definitely vision and mental health services. Those are the 2 things that are needed a lot more frequently than in previous years, but the access is limited. This is across all ages and grade levels. Our students would benefit tremendously from having greater access in these 2 areas. It’s not as rewarding to provide a parent with outside resources, not knowing if the service will actually be provided. There’s less chance the parent will actually follow up, which impacts the student negatively in the long run.
What is your favorite Chicago spot!
I do love Blue Aguave Tequila Bar on Kinzie. I also enjoy the wine tastings at Cooper’s Hawk Winery.
Each summer, after the close of Mobile Care Chicago’s fiscal year on June 30, our programs conduct an anonymous patient survey. We ask about a number of factors related to our mission, especially what we can do to continue to improve communication and convenience. The vast majority of our organization’s innovations are in response to suggestions from our families, creating an annual process of adaptation before the school year starts and our clinics again kick into high gear. For that reason, these past ten years, I’ve made time to read all of the hundreds of surveys personally.
As a free and charitable clinic, our survey always ends in the month meant to celebrate the vital role that we play in our Nation’s health infrastructure (August is Free & Charitable Clinic Month). Free clinics across the country provide safe, convenient, non-judgmental spaces for people seeking medical care. Without free clinics, many people who live in areas that lack medical infrastructure, or who avoid preventative visits because they’re uninsured or have barely-there private insurance, their primary source of medical access is an Emergency Department—the most expensive option that’s least capable of managing chronic conditions.
As one parent whose child has been using our clinics for six years wrote on their survey: “MCC has been giving us a great service, since we have been coming to the asthma van my daughter has not been in the emergency room. Thank you MCC!”
40% of our patients had used an Emergency Department in the year before joining their mobile unit. After one year in our programs, only 3% of those same patients had been back to an Emergency Department. That staggering contrast says something about the power of these clinics to change the trajectory of people’s health. Moreover, free clinics reverse a frustrating economic burden that, paradoxically, is placed on people least able to pay for it: the high cost of medical care in emergency settings. The average ED visit in Illinois cost $1,818 in 2017, which means that if we just take the 37% of our patients who were dependent on an ED and haven’t returned, across all of our programs, we saved the healthcare system a cool $3,796,202.16 last year. (Assuming we all believe that health care costs haven’t gone up in the last five years.)
If we focus specifically on asthma, one of the highest drivers of preventable health care costs including ED visits, the State of Illinois reports that asthma costs $3,266 per person per year. For each asthma patient we take on, we save the healthcare system $2,198.27.
We at Mobile Care don’t get any of those dollars (though, to be clear, we would take them if the State insisted), so the money itself isn’t the point. What’s represented is that free clinics are able to be a reliable source of medical care and, more importantly, health education that saves people from waiting until something gets so awful that they can’t continue normal activities. Moreover, what’s represented is that preventative care and health education, when offered without barriers like cost, transportation, long wait times, and in a language people can understand, it’s highly effective at making sure people get better and therefore don’t require emergency care. As another parent put it,
“The staff ensure that you feel welcomed and help you understand why they prescribe the meds and how they work. This helps a lot! Even the kids understand and are more willing to take the medications as directed. Thank you!”
As we celebrate free and charitable clinics this month, what strikes me most is their ability to reach people left out of the traditional health care system, and to facilitate sustained change in their health and wellness. Thank your continued support as we strive to reach as many people as possible this fiscal year with free, quality, preventative care.
We’re raising $5,000 to educate and empower 900 more families on Mobile Care clinics by our event on June 9th!! Can you help us reach our goal?
We’ll be raising money to provide direct medical care to 10,000 families by 2023, and the money we raise through this campaign in particular will provide education to 900 families before our event on June 9!
Want to donate AND attend the event? Donate any amount and you’ll receive a registration code. Use the code to register before the event so we know you’re coming.
Tell me more about this fundraising event! Cheers for Children’s Health is our annual fundraising event. Admission includes drinks, food, and interactive games. Meet our board, our clinic staff, tour an MCC clinic, and enjoy the beautiful space FLATs has so kindly donated to us. The Duncan is an accessible, large outdoor space filled with lots of cozy seating. Cheers for Children’s Health is a family friendly event- feel free to bring your kids!
Okay I’m in! Where do I buy tickets again? Click here!! We can’t wait to see you on June 9th 🙂
In our Strategic Plan we stated that we’d increase patient capacity by 40%. Knowing the importance of this comes with understanding the lack of specialty care in some of the most at-risk neighborhoods throughout the greater Chicago area. By increasing our patient capacity, we are creating systems, programs and avenues to assist with closing the gap as it pertains to access to quality care, with the goal being to reduce health disparities, increase health equity and level the playing field in availability of care. In an effort to reach this goal, Mobile Care will continue with the tried and true method of adding new school sites as well as resurveying current school populations for new patients and further removing the barrier of location and transportation by permanently offering virtual visits as an option. We have also added additional services like physicals and immunizations, partnered with Howard Brown Health to meet the demands of COVID-19 testing and vaccinations in addition to performing HIV testing in partnership with Howard Brown Health. We’ve worked with PerfectVision to deliver no cost eye exams and glasses to kids and most recently we’ve partnered with UIC to address the opioid crisis. All of these efforts have greatly expanded our reach. Using some of the tactics above we are diligently working to bring our unique patient (for asthma) volume up to 1,200 by the close of the current fiscal year. When this is accomplished, more families across the Chicagoland area will have received high quality care to address various needs. Thousands of kids will have reduced their trips to the ER, hospital stays and school absences related to asthma/allergies and, hopefully, have a better quality of life.
-Kamari Thompson, Director of Patient Services
Children with untreated chronic conditions experience increased school absenteeism and poorer performance in school compared to their peers. Children with untreated chronic conditions use expensive ERs and hospitals for medical care at triple the rate of other children. The vast majority of preventable emergency department visits among children, as well as negative health outcomes and cost, are being shouldered by economically disadvantaged parents who have children with chronic health conditions. This cannot be a reality we allow ourselves to accept.
Mobile Care Chicago’s Board and staff are committed to maintaining healthcare access for the thousands of people who came to us for the first time during the pandemic, but doing so will mean substantially increasing our clinic capacity. I feel very fortunate to report that, thanks to our many individual and grantmaking supporters, this expansion is already well underway. We’ve dramatically expanded our clinic staff (from 13 staff in the first year of our Strategic Plan to 20 staff currently), and we’re going to be hiring more positions in 2022. Our ultimate goal is to serve over 10,000 children annually across all of our programs by the end of 2023. Just as important, however, is to use this opportunity to streamline our protocols and make it easier to scale beyond 10,000 children in the years beyond. There are tens of thousands of children in and around Chicago lacking necessary medical and dental care. As an organization nationally recognized for its ability to reach and effectively treat people in need, we must do everything possible to drive the health clinics people need to their neighborhoods quickly and consistently. I’m excited to implement our plan through 2023—I know many lives will be changed for the better because of this effort.
Patients currently make appointments on Mobile Care Chicago’s clinics in one of three ways: First, they can add their name to a school list when our clinic date is announced; second, they can call our Patient Services department and have the scheduling team manually add an appointment into the schedule; or third, they will get a call from Patient Services reminding them that they’re due back. Fielding calls, tracking due-backs in excel, and keeping separate lists for each school is, to understate the issue, cumbersome and opaque to our patients (and our partners). Yet each clinic we operate has its own unique rotation of community locations and its own rotation schedule, so most traditional online scheduling systems are overmatched by our 150+ clinic locations.
Through our Strategic Plan interviews, our patients asked us to think about the bigger picture: the role automation can play in patient outreach and empowerment. Parents may sign their child up to visit the Dental Van weeks before their child’s dental appointment, but they don’t receive an automated reminder the day before the Dental Van will be at their school. Asthma patients, by contrast, do receive regular reminders of their appointments, but if someone can no longer make their asthma appointment, their only option to modify their appointment is via phone call, something that can be hard for parents while they’re at work. A lack of automated reminders and web-based scheduling assistance may have been ok when MCC was managing 3,000 patient appointments annually over two clinics, but now involves head-spinning challenges for a Patient Services department that is coordinating five different clinics and facilitating almost 8,000 patient appointments annually.
Under the Strategic Plan, we will expand Mobile Care’s patient-facing communications and marketing ability, and add communication technology upgrades. Though we’ve done quite a lot of work in this area, the reason we score this a 2 out of 5 is because of the complexity of the challenge. We’ve determined that when it comes to open booking, we need to start with vetting new electronic health record databases (EHR’s), and through that process we hope that one of two things will happen: either we find an EHR that has an open booking function built into it, or the EHR is compatible with a scheduling system that functions almost like a customer relationship manager (or is a CRM).
We’ve narrowed down our top EHR’s, and we’re talking with sales reps (everyone’s favorite job). From there, we will choose a few of the best EHR’s, demo them with our Patient Services team, and build out a universal scheduling framework so patients can be updated on their appointment times and make changes to their appointments. When open booking is implemented, patients will have many more tools to track and modify their appointments. Patient Services will have a less complex workflow and can scale to assist a higher volume of patients more easily, and MCC can confidently achieve its goal of expanding to 10,000 patients served by the end of 2023.
-Rachel Lessing, Communications and Development Manager
The expansion of the Patient Services Department is important because Mobile Care is expanding. Mobile Care is expanding its reach, in terms of the services we provide, the regions we serve, and our patient population. By doing this we are able to offer our services to a greater number of families and address a greater need. Patient Services has hired additional staff and added indoor air quality monitoring to our home assessments. We’ve expanded our home assessment and physicals/immunizations programs, we’ve partnered with other organizations to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid crisis. We’ve added additional school sites in the south suburbs and assisted with providing much-needed specialty care that had not been available in the area previously. Mobile Care is always looking for opportunities to meet the needs of our communities and to do whatever we can to improve health equity. As we expand, we will hopefully provide the best care for not only asthma, allergies and dental but also for primary care, mental health, violence prevention, etc. Perhaps one day, the name Mobile Care will ring bells throughout our region, because we created access regardless of financial status, social status, race, or geographic location. We paved new roads to quality care.
-Kamari Thompson, Director of Patient Services
When we speak in public health conversations about the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH), because it has become a buzzword for so many different things, I fear that we tend to abstract them into the realm of mystical complexity where they remain acknowledged but unaddressed, present in discussion but too all-consuming to affect. Healthy People 2030 lists five different sub-groups of SDOH, and any one of these categories would require us to up-end our present social structure to comprehensively address. Yet, at the heart of SDOH is a simple and urgent syllogism:
In our society, a lot of people don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs
As a result, they are forced to make concessions on many or all of their basic needs
Keeping people, and families in particular, in an economic position where their basic needs cannot be met is not free or economically responsible because, ultimately, there is a massive social cost that must be paid, through our healthcare spending and in other areas; far higher than if people had been given the funds to meet their needs in the first place
Because the social cost is so high, we as a society need to document all of the areas where low-income people have had to concede their basic needs partially or fully so that we can understand and try to remediate the price we, collectively, are paying
In doing this accounting, we are documenting a road: once people are set upon this road it leads to poor health, dramatically increased risk of chronic health conditions, huge unpaid hospital bills, and untimely death. We may not see where this road leads in each individual step, when the end is not yet on the horizon, but we know where it goes because people have walked this road before and are now in the process of walking it, everyday.
Mobile Care Chicago is a very small charitable organization that specializes in delivering medical care to people with chronic conditions, and the question might naturally arise what meaningful role an organization like ours can play in creating systemic change, the likes of which would move the needle on mortality rates, healthcare spending, and the prevalence of chronic health issues.
The answer, which may surprise you, is that a small organization can do an awful lot, and we are committed to doing even more. Our approach to social determinants starts with people and their specific needs. Not every family experiences all social determinants of health in the same way or to the same degree. One issue, like housing, might be at a crisis level, while something else, like access to nutritious foods, might not be an issue at that time. Addressing needs, then, starts by listening to specific people, and developing unique plans. The reason we emphasize an expansion of the community health workers in our Patient Services Department when discussing SDOH, is because building capacity allows us to ask more questions and resolve a greater set of issues.
Based on the answers our families gave us last year, we know that these are the social determinants that we mitigate currently:
Transportation – over 70% of MCC patients report that a significant barrier to receiving consistent medical care is an inability to take time off work to travel to distant clinics that accept public insurance or will grant appointments without charge for uninsured patients. By driving high-quality medical care within blocks of patients’ homes, and offering all services free of charge, MCC removes a substantial barrier. The organization also offers telehealth appointments so that parents do not have to take off work and travel in order to be present at medical appointments.
Health Behaviors – Effective preventative care is not necessarily about how often one sees a doctor, it’s about strong, intentional health habits that promote wellness. All of MCC’s medical appointments have a substantial focus on education and empowerment, teaching and reinforcing for families the specific actions, like regular tooth brushing, use asthma control medications, allergy trigger avoidance/reduction, that will aid them in their goal of overall wellness. MCC’s Patient Services department continues to provide education with regular case management calls between regularly scheduled patient appointments.
Safe Housing – Mobile Care Chicago offers Home Environmental Assessments, in partnership with the EPA Region 5 and the American Lung Association’s Illinois Chapter. These assessments proactively identify and remove allergy triggers that make a home potentially dangerous for a person with severe allergic reactions. These assessments also feed back into reinforcement of positive health habits, giving Patient Services staff a better idea of what they can emphasize through education.
Equal Access to Education – Asthma and tooth pain are the two most common causes of school absenteeism, according to the CPS Office of Student Health and Wellness. Over 50% of new MCC patients had missed days of school for a chronic medical condition in the year before enrollment in their mobile clinic. One year later, 96% of those same patients had not missed any days of school.
Access to nutritious foods and physical activity opportunities – MCC tries to partner directly with local food distribution points to ensure that families who need both resources do not have to make multiple trips to receive the assistance that they need. Physical activity is a major indicator of asthma control, and through providing sport physicals so that students can participate in athletics, and by offering comprehensive asthma management, MCC allows children who would have significant barriers to athletics and healthy play to participate in those activities.
Polluted air and water – MCC frequently collaborates on research that can measure and address potential causes of harm in air and water. Most recently, MCC and UIC partnered on a study of particulate matter and airborne heavy metals in Chicago’s Southeast side. The findings are being presented to community groups presently, and are published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health under the title “Assessment of Metal Concentrations and Associations with Pulmonary Function among Children with Asthma in Chicago, Illinois.” Other publications on other aspects of metal exposure are planned in 2022.
Language barriers – All of MCC’s clinics are bi-lingual (Eng/Spn) so that the portion of MCC’s patient population that feels more comfortable speaking Spanish, which is over 60% of current patients, can receive education and support in their native language.
Is this a comprehensive methodology to address all Social Determinants of Health? No. It’s not even close. We’re frequently in discussions with our patients and community partners to understand how we can do more.
Through addressing these substantial health barriers, however, there’s no doubt that Mobile Care Chicago has helped change the trajectory of patient families. We’ve shared stories publicly in the past about patients who were able to focus more in school, participate in athletics, go on to college, or were inspired to pursue jobs in healthcare because of their experience on the mobile units. We’ve also shared stories of families who had close brushes with death and found their health completely transformed through regular access to a specialist aboard our Asthma Vans. Indeed, if every child had the same access to medical providers as our patients, it would save the City of Chicago over $11.7 million dollars annually in decreased hospitalizations, and another $24.9 million in decreased ER utilization. Sometimes resolving health barriers for families doesn’t require a place that can do a little of everything, but rather a place that can do some things really, really well. Expanding our Patient Services Department translates into expanded capacity to listen to what our patient families need and, ultimately, to adapt our organization to resolve their most urgent issues.