A new rig is rolling around the streets of the North Fork. On the outside, it looks similar to an ambulance, but open ‘er up, and there’s enough stuff in there to treat a small army — at least, enough stuff to treat people of the North Fork Valley in this mobile medical clinic.
Needlerock Mobile Health Clinic is the name, and fixing up, patching up and making sure all’s well in the world of health, is the name of the game for Jenny Mitchell. She’s the owner/operator of this doctor’s office on wheels, and those wheels will travel to nearly anywhere in the North Fork Valley to anyone who has a need to see Mitchell.
She is a family nurse practitioner. And while she works for Western Valley Family Practice in Fruita on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (she has to earn money for those tedious things like bills, after all) the rest of the week she’s working at her clinic on wheels, offering affordable, non-emergency health care to people of all ages and all income levels.
Her work with the clinic is actually volunteer work, even though she owns the van. Needlerock Mobile Health Clinic is a 501(c)(3), and Mitchell makes no profit off her services.
The clinic was founded in 2004. At that time, it wasn’t mobile, and it wasn’t even here.
Mitchell lived in Las Vegas. She opened a medical clinic she ran after normal business hours and on weekends for underinsured and uninsured patrons. Even while in Vegas, she’d named her clinic the Needlerock, because she always had the intention of going mobile and moving to Crawford.
On her honeymoon 12 years ago, her husband Tim Mitchell, who went to school in Paonia, brought her to the North Fork Valley so she could see it. While they were here, they bought a piece of property in Crawford. They visited each summer, until they finally moved to the area this past January.
Since that time, Mitchell has operated her mobile health clinic. And while her primary goal is to reach uninsured people, she doesn’t turn anyone away.
Her goal is to offer health services, education, diagnosis, treatment and disease prevention to a population that, more often than not, forgoes any medical treatment at all. She’s also there for people who are isolated; either they are homebound, can’t get in to see a doctor, or need services they can’t for some reason get in the North Fork.
Oftentimes, uninsured or low-income people have to make the choice between seeing a doctor or taking prescriptions and other basic needs. This may work for a while, but when they really get sick and have to go the emergency room, they’re looking at an even bigger bill than had they seen a doctor in the first place. Mitchell says she hopes to help with this cycle and limit those unnecessary trips to the ER.
For $40 a visit, people can see Mitchell for a variety of reasons. She does school and sports physicals; pre-employment physicals, DOT exams and employment drug testing; vision tests, blood pressure, height and weight checks; preventive health care immunizations, including flu, tetanus and TB; treatment for minor injuries and sutures; cryo-freezing for warts and skin lesions; women’s health services and pap smears; EKG’s; and more. She also offers on-site flu vaccinations for businesses. She is able to prescribe antibiotics, and since many patients using her service either aren’t able to make it to a local pharmacy or don’t have the insurance to pay for pricey prescriptions, Mitchell keeps her van stocked with a few typical antibiotics she is able to give out. She’s also able to prescribe birth control pills and patches. A growing need Mitchell sees is giving child immunizations. For people without insurance, going to a doctor so their babies can get their required shots can get to be pretty pricey, so many end up driving to Delta to the health department. Mitchell is looking into being able to give these shots. For kids entering the fifth through eighth grade this fall, a new vaccine is being required, and Mitchell is already getting calls.
“There’s a really big need in this area,” she said.
She can give them, but she had to pay, out of pocket, full price for the medicine from wholesale pharmaceutical companies. If she’s able to get them from the state, she’ll be able to pass the savings on to her patients; now, she has to charge an additional $10 for these shots.
“It’s just going to take time to get it all worked out,” she said.
Since January, she’s treated about 100 patients. Almost 90 percent of them are not insured, but a growing number of her patients have insurance but prefer a pretty inexpensive bill and the chance to be seen almost immediately. In some cases, her $40 charge is what a typical doctor’s office would charge as an insurance co-pay. The $40 she collects pays for her vehicle insurance and gas. Another advantage — since she’s non-profit, all those $40 visits can be written off as a charitable donation.
She prefers to meet people at central locations, like at City Market in Hotchkiss or at Don’s Market in Paonia, but for the people who are truly homebound with no way to make it into town, she goes where she is needed.
This past winter, an elderly man was so ill he was unable to even walk to his car and drive to town to see a doctor. He called Mitchell, and she was able to treat him at his home and get him started on antibiotics.
She is more than willing to see people in Delta and Cedaredge, but with the high price of gas, she asks that people down valley meet her in Hotchkiss some place. She takes appointments, but also allows walk-ins, a service you can’t get with a traditional doctor’s office.
She collaborates with a physician, and she’s quick to make referrals to patients when they need medical care beyond what the mobile clinic is able to offer.
Because her health clinic is non-profit, Mitchell has the task of applying for grants to make sure her clinic can keep its wheels on the ground. Two grants allowed her to purchase the van initially.
She is looking for volunteers to help with her cause. Businesses and governmental agencies can write letters of support of her operation, which she is able to use in securing grants. People may also volunteer to help, by helping families fill out paperwork while Mitchell is with patients, grant research and writing, and other tasks. So far she’s received help, with either money or a letter of support, from the Towns of Hotchkiss and Crawford, and a few area businesses.
Mitchell earned her undergrad degree in nursing from the University of Las Vegas-Nevada. She has a master’s degree in nursing from Case Western in Ohio, and earned her family nurse practitioner degree in Kentucky. She has over 30 years experience as a nurse, working mainly in the Las Vegas area.
The Needlerock Mobile Health Clinic can be reached at 970-987-2407 for appointments or information.