Share Our Selves rolls out mobile health unit that aims to meet, treat at-risk people where they are

Share Our Shelves Community Health Mobile Unit
Christy Ward, the CEO of Share Our Shelves, shows off the SOS Community Health Mobile Unit on Monday, Aug. 10.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

For the past 50 years, community health center Share Our Selves has made strides to serve as many vulnerable and low-income people as possible, offering medical, dental and social services throughout Orange County with a main office in Costa Mesa.

In addition to providing at-risk patients medical and pharmacy services, the comprehensive center operates a food pantry and acts as a mailing address for homeless individuals who otherwise could not receive important mail. Staff provide rental and bill-payment assistance for struggling families and distribute school supplies to children in need.

Now, Share Our Selves can go even further, thanks to a new mobile health unit that aims to remove barriers to accessing healthcare by taking it out into the streets for those who need it most.

And, given the continuing coronavirus pandemic, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“The needs in our community are growing as we see an increase in unemployment and increasing numbers for not only our direct healthcare services, but in the number of families who have come to our food pantry,” said SOS chief executive Christy Ward.

Share Our Shelves tour of the SOS Community Health Mobile Unit
Dr. Jay Lee, the chief medical officer with Share Our Shelves, gives a tour of the SOS Community Health Mobile Unit to Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley and Rep. Harley Rouda on Monday, Aug. 10.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer )

“Now, the goal is to bring services to individuals who, for one reason or another, don’t have a comfort level coming here,” she continued.

On Monday, Share Our Selves convened a group of stakeholders and local dignitaries for a ribbon-cutting ceremony meant to coincide with National Health Center Week, from Aug. 9 to 15.

Ward said the celebration was the culmination of months of planning, as a defunct 2006 mobile vehicle housed in storage was retrofitted into a medical office on wheels, complete with a small intake office, restroom and two exam rooms.

SOS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jay Lee described the new unit as a step forward in the evolution of street medicine, the transport of medical and social services to where homeless populations reside.

Dr. Jay Lee, the chief medical officer with Costa-Mesa based nonprofit Share Our Shelves
Dr. Jay Lee, the chief medical officer with Share Our Shelves, gives a tour of the SOS Community Health Mobile Unit on Monday, Aug.10.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“When you think about health you have to think outside the four walls of a clinic,” Lee said. “ZIP code matters, social connection matters, whether someone has a roof over their head or access to a meal matters. With our mobile unit we have the opportunity to break down some of those walls of distance and isolation and be able to get to communities that are in great need.”

Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) said such leadership is more vital than ever as communities, states and nations battle the coronavirus.

“It is people and institutions like SOS that are on the frontlines and really making a difference,” Rouda said. “How apropos, during Health Center Week, to be rolling out — literally and figuratively — your new mobile office. That’s going to help reach people who are harder to touch in these difficult times.”

A representative from the office of Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) shared remarks, as did Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley.

“The mobile unit is so critical right now. Costa Mesa is on the verge of 1,300 (coronavirus) cases and 71 of those are children,” Foley said. “Being able to serve people out in the community, wherever they are, helping them get tested and helping them get the healthcare they need — this is what we need to be working on in our country right now.”

Lee and a small team took the unit out for a test run or two in June, making the rounds at places homeless residents are known to congregate. It gave the group a chance to work out the logistics of driving a medical office to homeless shelters throughout Orange County and also see the Share Our Selves mission at work.

“We’ve been able to provide some services and a caring touch, even though it’s a socially distanced touch, to people who do not often see the human caring they deserve,” he said.

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