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COVID-19 testing delivered

By Rex Robinson | 5/6/2020, 6:43 p.m.
A mobile unit provided by the Will County Health Department’s Community Health Center is hitting the streets throughout the county ...
WCHD Community Health Center staffers on Tuesday prepare for a day of Coronavirus testing on the road for employees and residents of Stepping Stones in Joliet.

A mobile unit provided by the Will County Health Department’s Community Health Center is hitting the streets throughout the county offer coronavirus testing at everywhere from churches to nursing homes and childcare sites.

The CHC’s Mobile Medical Unit (which also operates as a Mobile Dental Unit) has joined with the Illinois Department of Public Health to provide the services, which began earlier this week.

One of the stops planned for May 20th is at St. John Baptist Church, 104 E. Zarley Boulevard in unincorporated Joliet Township’s Preston Heights. “I’m so glad they chose to come here and serve the people who need it most,” said the church’s Pastor Herb Brooks, who is also a Will County board member.

He added that it’s places like Preston Heights and other neighborhoods around Joliet made up predominately of minorities that are underserved when it comes to social services, health care and even food pantries. Brooks said he has created a flier announcing the May 20th date and other details of when the Medical Mobile Unit will be at the church. He plans to put the fliers in food bags at the Northern Illinois Food Bank and also drop them at the YMCA on Briggs Street. (See list of stops and dates of the Mobile Medical Unit)

The unit will have available 80 test kits per stop, according to Will County Health Department spokesman Steve Brandy. “As long as they keep providing the test kits, we’ll keep it going,” Brandy said.

Gov. J.B Pritzker’s office provided the testing kits for Community Health Centers throughout the state, and the CHC’s mobile van drives to high-risk community locations for COVID-19 testing processed through Illinois Department of Public Health laboratories.

“The Governor’s office and IDPH decided to partner with FQHCs (Federally Qualified Health Centers) like ours because of their connections to the communities and the resources they have, like our mobile unit,” said WCHD Executive Director Sue Olenek.“Congregate care settings innately have challenges because of the proximity of their residents, causing the risk of transmission to be higher. This includes nursing and assisted living homes, childcare sites, residential treatment facilities, and many more.”

For CHC Chief Executive Officer Mary Maragos, this is an example of exactly what their mobile unit is meant to do.“It increases access to care by bringing health services to those who cannot travel, or for whom transportation is a barrier,” Maragos said. “Taking the Mobile Medical Unit on important outings like this is a multidisciplinary team effort that takes a lot of organization, daily debriefing, and revisions as needed.”

The unit’s first stop for COVID-19 testing was at Stepping Stones Treatment Center on Theodore Street in Joliet on April 28th.

CHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Byrd said any type of testing being done on the road is more complicated than inside a medical office.“We have to make sure the site can accommodate our mobile unit when it comes to maneuverability and space to set up, as well as ensuring our healthcare workers are in an open air environment for safer testing,” Byrd said. “Plus, we need to ensure the hosting site can assist with patient scheduling and flow, and we need to make sure we have enough PPE (personal protective equipment) to keep this process going. We are excited to be involved in the fight against COVID-19 in this way, as this is the kind of work that community health centers are driven to do.’’

As the battle against Coronavirus continues, WCHD officials said they have plenty of hopes for the future beyond these scheduled congregate testing stops. Currently, testing for COVID-19 is not available at the Health Department and Community Health Center sites, but Olenek said she hopes that will change in the future.“Once a valid point-of-care test (meaning the result of the test can be known very soon, without having the sample sent away to a lab) for coronavirus is available, we hope to have testing available here at the WCHD CHC for the general public,” Olenek explained.“We are just not sure when that will be.”

Maragos, meanwhile, said she has hopes that the CHC’s Mobile Medical Unit will have some additional services in the future, one in particular, when it visits those who have issues with mobility and transportation.“We certainly hope, one day, that the mobile unit will be able to go out and administer COVID-19 immunizations.”

For more information on Will County Health Department and Community Health Center programs, visit willcountyhealth.org.