Clemson opens world’s first solar-powered mobile health clinic

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When parked, the mobile clinic’s slide out nearly doubles its interior space, and it features a television screen that will deliver nutritional and health education to patients. Image Credit: Clemson University

Clemson University is putting health care on four wheels.

The Joseph F. Sullivan Center, the university’s health care center, has opened the world’s first solar-powered, mobile health clinic. “This vehicle is truly a dream come true for me and our staff,” said Dr. Paula Watt, director of the Sullivan Center.

She added that the mobile clinic would provide health care to underserved communities throughout Greenville, Anderson, Pickens and Oconee counties as well as help students understand the challenges of health care.

The new mobile clinic provides immediate health needs, such as flu shots. But it also provides breast and cervical cancer screenings and connects residents to regular health care providers.

The Sullivan Center will also focus on “lifestyle medicine,” educating patients on how to manage physical activity, stress and nutrition. The clinic features large television screens that provide interactive health education modules.

Clemson is also using the clinic to provide access to quality food. The clinic is outfitted with food storage bins that allow cooperative demonstration projects to provide veggies and fruits. The Sullivan Center plans to hold nutritional counseling as well as deliver fresh foods on-site throughout the Upstate.

“We’re equipping people to take care of themselves in the long term,” Watt said. “When people take charge of their own health, the physician’s job is easier and there is a higher likelihood of successful prevention, treatment and management if and when a major medical need arises.”

The mobile health clinic is the result of state support from Sen. Thomas Alexander (R-Walhalla), who said mobile clinics are essential to helping areas of the state that remain underserved in South Carolina, which lacks physicians.

Anita Chambers, Sen. Thomas Alexander and Paula Watt (left to right) celebrate the mobile clinic’s first trial run in Walhalla, South Carolina. Image Credit: Clemson University
Anita Chambers, Sen. Thomas Alexander and Paula Watt (left to right) celebrate the mobile clinic’s first trial run in Walhalla, South Carolina. Image Credit: Clemson University

The U.S. will be facing a deficit of more than 130,000 primary care physicians by 2025, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. In 2014, the last year that data is available, South Carolina ranked 37th with 223.1 primary care physicians per every 100,000 patients. Also, 1.2 million South Carolinians live in a primary care shortage area. That’s 25 percent of the state.

“It’s critical that the state make it possible for organizations like the Sullivan Center to bring health care to folks who need it most,” Alexander said. “The state should support any mission that leads to better health outcomes, and the preventative and educational components provided by mobile clinics have proven time and again to do just that.”

The mobile health clinic will also provide educational opportunities for nursing and other health science students. Clemson University already has more than 7,500 recorded hours of one-on-one teaching through its nursing and health schools.

Clemson recently received support from the joint medical and nursing boards for South Carolina that will allow the clinic to access care across the state. “They [students] will rise to the challenges faced by the individuals this clinic serves and lead the way to improved health care across our state and beyond,” Watt said.

Watt worked with Odulair, a Wyoming manufacturing company, to create the mobile health clinic. “We did immeasurable homework on what we wanted,” she said.

One of her concerns was the clinic’s off-road capability. So the company built the clinic with a four-wheel drive base. The new mobile clinic also features flexClinic technology that allows walls to move and convert from one room to five rooms.

The entire clinic runs off a special solar battery that eliminates the noise and fumes that typically come from a traditional generator as well as decreases operation and maintenance costs.

It’s the world’s first mobile health clinic to use 100 percent solar power.

“We’ve all dreamed of using solar power in this way for a long time, but the technology is finally at a stage where it can be useful,” said Anita Chambers, president and CEO of Odulair, the clinic’s manufacturer.

The clinic should remain functional through 2030, according to the company.

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