Texas Children’s delivers health care on wheels aboard the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile
The two-room clinic on wheels delivers the same high-quality medical care that can be found at traditional Texas Children’s locations. Plus, the first-come, first-served visits are free.
The vehicle is a program of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Houston/Galveston, which is funded by the support of McDonald’s operators and community donors. The local Ronald McDonald House Charities affiliate provides grants to Ronald McDonald House Houston, a Texas Medical Center member institution, and to Ronald McDonald House Galveston.
Recently, the care mobile visited the Houston Independent School District‘s Bellfort Early Childhood Center on the city’s southeast side to provide care to “Bellfort Bees,” as the students are known, and their relatives.
“Instead of inviting families to come in like in a traditional clinic setting, we are being invited into the community and we are being invited to provide care,” said mobile unit pediatrician Padma Swamy, M.D., MPH, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Texas Children’s. “Because of that flip, I think that there is really an opportunity to learn about what is happening locally and how people feel.”
Painted in bright colors with nostalgic images of the McDonald’s clown mascot—Ronald McDonald—amid photos of former care mobile patients, the vehicle has an inviting exterior that welcomes children inside.
The mobile unit provides vaccinations, well child checkups, sick visits and lab work.
“We’re able to provide trainees—pediatric residents and medical students—with an opportunity to see underserved care in action and to see how to interface with a community to make clinic happen,” Swamy said.
Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people 18 and younger as well as the most uninsured children of any state—872,794 in 2018. Harris County ranks first among the nation’s counties for the number of uninsured children, according to a 2019 U.S. Census Bureau-based report by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute. Nearly 170,000 children without health coverage lived in Harris County in 2018.
In 2019, roughly 9,000 of these children visited the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile for pediatric services. A second unit provides dental care to underserved children through a partnership with UTHealth’s School of Dentistry.
“Our Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles allow us to bridge the gap for thousands of underserved children by traveling directly to neighborhoods to provide quality dental and medical care,” said Tanya Gee, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Houston/Galveston.
Children and members of their families receive on-site care aboard both vehicles in their communities.
“Our goal as a mobile clinic is not to be a primary care physician,” Swamy said. “Our goal is to connect people to care and community resources.”
Upon the pediatric clinic’s arrival at the Bellfort Early Childhood Center, a line abuzz with Bellfort Bees quickly formed.
“We see the struggles people are dealing with on a first-hand basis,” said Cassandra Garcia, DNP, RN, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Texas Children’s and a mobile care unit nurse practitioner. “There are a lot of barriers to accessing care—why they haven’t sought medical care, why they are delinquent on vaccinations, why they let their kid run a fever for five days without coming in. They don’t have access and that is why we are here.”
In total that day, the medical team provided care to 23 children. The unit will return to serve more in the future.
“I love being able to work in the mobile unit,” Swamy said. “Without this mobile clinic, we would lose a touchpoint with the most vulnerable part of the population and they would not be able to access care.”