EAST CHICAGO | From the outside, the HealthLinc mobile unit looks like a recreational vehicle a family would drive on a summer trip to the Grand Canyon.
On the inside, aside from the two front bucket seats, not much is the same.
The 325-square-foot vehicle has two exam rooms equipped with exam chairs as well as X-ray equipment, blood pressure cuffs and an array of typical medical supplies. The concept is simple: if people cannot visit a dentist or doctor, the health community will bring it to them.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony took place Tuesday morning at East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland's office, welcoming the vehicle into service.
Built in North Carolina, the health mobile cost about $550,000. U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, secured a $500,000 grant through the Affordable Care Act for the vehicle.
The Barker Foundation contributed toward the cost, and HealthLinc, a federally qualified health center, tapped into some of its capital improvement fund savings to round out the rest, said Beth Wrobel, CEO of HealthLinc.
With all the controversy about the federal budget, the vehicle is an example of a wise return on federal spending, Visclosky said.
The mobile unit will reduce barriers to health care, Wrobel said.
The vehicle can travel to schools, community centers and to the streets. Communities particularly need dental care, she said.
"According to everything we can find out, there's only one dentist in East Chicago that takes Medicaid," she said.
Wrobel said that when she was a girl growing up in rural Maryland, she knew the bookmobile arrived at 1:20 p.m. every Tuesday, bringing a van full of reading to her neighborhood. Just as she and her friends sat in anticipation of those books, she wants children to be excited about the RV delivering health care.
"I want the children to feel that excitement when they see the health mobile," Wrobel said.
Bob Franko, chair of the HealthLinc board, said the need and the timing for the health van are aligned.
"It's delivering the right services to the right people at the right time," he said.
The services will be a blessing to those who have limited access to care, said JoAnn Birdzell, CEO of St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago.
Copeland said the health mobile is just the beginning. He would like to see something more permanent and even grander to serve residents.