Harris County Public Health

August 21, 2021 | 0
Photos courtesy of Harris County Public Health.

Harris County Public Health (HCPH) is the county health department for Harris County, Texas, home to the Houston metro and the third most populous county in America. According to their website, HCPH provides “comprehensive health services and programs to the community… and is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of Harris County residents and the communities in which they live, learn, work, worship, and play.”

One of the ways in which they meet that goal is by holding public events throughout the year in each of the four Harris County Commissioner’s precincts. At these events, HCPH rolls out its fleet of 11 specialized mobile vehicles to provide services such immunizations, nutrition and free produce, food safety information, dental services, breast feeding instruction, mosquito/vector-borne disease education, pet adoption and veterinary services.

HCPH’s impressive fleet is made up of the following vehicles: Three mobile medical clinics and one mobile dental clinic, a Virtual Health Response vehicle, a pet adoption unit, a spay/neuter & animal wellness clinic, the Mobile Mosquito & Vector Exploration Center, the Mobile Environmental Public Health vehicle, a mobile food market trailer, and a Women, Infants & Children (WIC) Services unit. Of HCPH’s fleet, six were built by La Boit: all three medical clinics, the dental clinic, the pet adoption, and the spay/neuter and wellness clinic.

In the beginning, HCPH only ran one mobile unit, a pet adoption vehicle. But they wanted to do more. Much more. So they set out to create a plan to “mobilize public health outreach.” The goal of the “HCPH Intervention,” as they called it, was to “develop and implement a holistic approach to mobilize public health outreach” by “creating the traditional vehicles for medical and dental services, but innovate new designs for non-traditional mobile units that provide as much of the full range of services as possible: Bringing Public Health to the Public.”

HCPH had a plan for unveiling its new Mobile Health Program to the community and media.  The programming and materials for each unit were planned and completed and employees trained. A soft launch was planned for September 2017.

Then, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on August 25, 2017, bringing torrential flooding, a loss of life, devastation and billions of dollars in damage.

HCPH’s Mobile Medical Clinic deployed during Hurricane Harvey. Photo Courtesy of Harris County Public Health.

“Be Flexible–Nothing Goes as Planned,” was HCPH’s new strategy as they scrambled to meet  their community’s needs. The mobile rollout plan was scrapped and their new vehicles were pressed into service. Their Virtual Health Unit was sent out immediately to NRG stadium where it streamed live news coverage and information on all five exterior TV screens for sheltering families and emergency personnel to get updates. The remaining vehicles were deployed shortly after.

Instead of public health fairs, the HCPH vehicles, which had never been in the community before, were providing disaster relief services for residents. HCPH writes that they learned lessons on a “trial by fire” basis, with each unit responsible for a segment of public health in the aftermath of Harvey. By partnering with businesses and non-profits, the units went to work: The medical and dental units distributed health services & education, the food market trailer partnered with Houston Food Bank to distribute food, the environmental unit distributed cleaning supplies from Johnson & Johnson, and the pet adoption unit gave out pet food donated by PetSmart, all for free. As the waters receded and Houston recovered, the valuable lessons they learned in their trial by fire could then be applied to their long-term mobile public health strategy.

Enter “Mobile Health Villages.”

Mobile Health Villages are innovative community-based events where the entire fleet of HCPH vehicles park for the day in a designated location, open their doors to the public, and provide a day of fun and healthy activities for the entire family.

“A Mobile Health Village is a ‘pop-up’ mobile experience where Harris County residents of all ages benefit from HCPH’s extensive health education and wellness services,” they write on their website. “From playing interactive virtual games, to seeing foster-ready pets, to shopping at the farmer’s market, to receiving free medical or dental checkups.”

The program has been very successful. In fact, HCPH’s mobile program was recognized by the National Association of County and City Health Officials for being “outstanding and innovative.”

But Mobile Health Villages aren’t the only innovative programs put on by the health department. In 2019, for example, HCPH collaborated with the Harris County Public Library and the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department to put on a special program designed to help young people in juvenile detention discover new ways of viewing the world and expressing themselves. HCPH deployed its Virtual Health Response Mobile Unit to the Probation Department’s Youth Village as part of a creative program run by the library. Onboard the vehicle, twelve boys and six girls between the ages of 15-18 used virtual reality software to immerse themselves in 3D painting/drawing experiences. These virtual experiences included painting in outer space, decorating snowmen, and a designing clothing, all within the VR environment.

Harris County Public Health is a prime example of how a comprehensive mobile program can provide both a depth and a breadth of public health services to the community. More and more, we are seeing public health departments invest in a mobile component, from vaccination campaigns, to general wellness, to HIV/AIDs testing. By taking services directly to where residents are, public health departments have found success in meeting their stated missions and making their communities safer for everyone.

About La Boit Specialty Vehicles

La Boit Specialty Vehicles president Gil Blais first started La Boit in his garage in 1981, where he hand-made organizational boxes for traveling veterinarians. Fast forward to today, La Boit Specialty Vehicles is now a leader in specialty vehicle manufacturing for the Veterinary, Spay/Neuter/Adoption, Dental, Medical, Command, and Bloodmobile industries.

La Boit Specialty Vehicles offers a variety of vehicles to suit your needs, from 18ft pull-behind trailers to 40ft drivable coaches, none of which require a CDL to drive. Best of all, our vehicles are commercially-built from the chassis up for your specific needs, and are never converted RVs.

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