MercyOne set to expand mobile unit public health response capacity

After just more than three months on the road, MercyOne Dubuque has served enough Dubuque County residents via its mobile medical unit that leaders have requested American Rescue Plan funding to expand its operation.

MercyOne unveiled its mobile unit — a modified recreation vehicle, complete with two exam rooms and more — in late October 2021, with a goal of reaching underserved and underinsured residents of eastern Iowa. The unit has traveled to vaccination clinics, food distributions, even a head injury prevention training at locations all over Dubuque County.

During a meeting of the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors on Monday night, MercyOne’s regional Vice President of Mission Integration Malissa Sprenger said that when the mobile unit began service, MercyOne’s projection had been that it would serve 2,000 people in its full first year. The unit has been busier than expected, she said.

“We’ve had 1,308 to-date, in just a three-month period,” she said. “Those are unique encounters, although many of those have accessed the mobile unit on more than one occasion. My goal now has been moved to 10,000 Dubuque County residents having access to this… There have been a handful of individuals who accessed vaccinations or boosters just because it was radically convenient.”

Since hitting the road, the mobile unit has delivered 1,638 vaccinations against COVID-19 and/or the flu.

MercyOne is prepared to use the mobile unit more regularly, staffed more fully, and eventually to offer brain health services. Officials have requested some of Dubuque County’s $19 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to do that.

“We have other funding streams for supplies and medication and fuel,” Sprenger said. “This funding would be used to give some depth to our interdisciplinary treatment team, so we can have nurse practitioners on board. We (also) talked about translators.”

MercyOne’s initial request, submitted in September, was $1 million. It included staff, medications, equipment and more. Since then, MercyOne Dubuque Foundation has raised $177,000 for the mobile unit.

“That’s come from family grants, but a number of private sector donors who see the vision and the need for this particular care, and the uniqueness of the offering, in being able to access every individual who needs our assistance, not where we are, but where they are,” said Foundation Executive Director Sue Hafkemeyer.

MercyOne has invested $250,000 of its own money and has received a $250,000 grant from Trinity Health’s Preserving Our Legacy fund for the purchase of the unit.

Sprenger said MercyOne would be satisfied with $300,000 from the ARPA funds.

Supervisor Jay Wickham said the county might consider tying some metrics to the funding to ensure certain results.

“Maybe that’s the number of events you attend or number of patients you actually serve, related to the funding,” he said.

Supervisors did not vote on funding the project on Monday, but were otherwise complimentary of the idea.