In 1976, Dr. Augusto Ortiz and his wife Martha looked to a donated school bus as a means to achieve their dream of providing free medical care to the poor of Tucson, Ariz.
Today, The University of Arizona Mobile Health Program (MHP) visits communities in a big, shiny trailer stocked with all the amenities of a regular health clinic — including an EKG — but the spirit behind it remains the same 40 years later.
The MHP makes regular rounds of communities in southern Arizona, serving about 2,400 uninsured and under-insured people, plus those that don’t have regular access to health facilities. Additionally, since 2003, the MHP has run group prenatal care appointments for expectant mothers, serving many who would never have received the important care otherwise and resulting in the delivery of more than 200 healthy babies.
Still, for all the poor that have been helped by the MHP, the impact on doctors-in-training may even be greater. The clinic is staffed with medical residents and students in public health, pre-med and pre-dental programs at the University of Arizona. Tammie Bassford, head of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University, tells Linda Valdez of AZ Central, “It has a profound impact on students.”
Bassford recalls one time when MHP staffers asked a patient if she needed any help with anything besides her health. She told them that she lacked a pot big enough to cook beans for everyone in her family. The MHP was happy to provide her with one.
Dr. Ortiz died at age 90 in 2007, but his wife Martha, now 90, is still involved in fundraising for the mobile health clinic that they founded. She believes in helping the poor for purposes of altruism, but also for the practical reason of preventing the spread of disease. “If somebody is standing next to you in the grocery line and coughing, it’s possible they have tuberculosis, and don’t know because they can’t get to a doctor,” she tells Valdez.
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