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Mobile health, dental units celebrating 10 years of serving area communities

The mobile health and dental units operated by WKU’s Institute for Rural Health Development & Research have come a long way in the past 10 years – literally and figuratively.

With a goal to expand health, wellness and dental services into rural areas, the institute’s first mobile unit hit the road in November 2001. A second unit was added in 2008.

WKU's mobile health and dental units are celebrating their 10th anniversary this fall. On Sept. 21, the Mobile Dental Unit visited James E. Bazzell Middle School in Scottsville. Dental hygiene students get hands-on experience through the Dental Sealant Program offered to second-graders and seventh-graders in a seven-county area. (WKU photos by Bryan Lemon)

In 10 years, the units have traveled more than 60,000 miles in 25 counties and have served 31,213 patients – 13,390 by the Mobile Dental Unit and 17,823 by the Health and Wellness Unit. About 500 WKU undergraduate students have logged more than 7,000 hours on the units.

“There are so many people who either don’t have access to care or they’re under insured or not insured,” said Bonny Petty, supervising dental hygienist. “These programs give them at the very least free screenings so they know to go see their primary caregiver.”

The first Mobile Health Unit was acquired in 2001 using a federal grant secured by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. In 2008, the institute received a grant from the Anthem Foundation to purchase a second unit. The original unit was renovated and now provides Dental Health Services. The second unit provides Health and Wellness Services.

“We are perhaps the best hidden asset in the community,” said Dr. Gary English, director of the IRHDR in WKU’s College of Health and Human Services. “We strive every day to meet the needs of those who are uninsured or underinsured without a lot of fanfare and marketing, but we are finding our niche in helping those who need these services the most.”

Services provided by Family Nurse Practitioner Mary Kovar, Registered Nurse Chandra Ellis-Griffith and nursing students on the Mobile Health and Wellness Unit include health care screenings for cholesterol, diabetes, blood pressure and bone density; and health education in the areas of heart health, diabetes prevention and control, hypertension, stress management, menopause, child development and illness avoidance.

Services provided by Petty, dentist Daniel Carter and dental hygiene students on the Mobile Dental Health Unit include the Dental Sealant Program, offered to second and seventh grade students in a seven-county area; a fluoride varnish program, offered to Head Start Programs in the Warren County area; and the Comprehensive Dental Program, offered to community agencies including Housing Authority locations, Salvation Army locations and other communities in the 27-county regional service area.

Petty, who has been with the program for 10 years, said the dental sealant program has been very successful. “For me, the main goal every day is to have a positive impact on the children we treat,” she said.

After seeing some students take advantage of the free services as both second-graders and seventh-graders, Petty said, “we feel like we’re having an impact on oral health in the community.”

The mobile units also are having an impact on WKU dental hygiene and nursing students by providing hands-on training as well as community service.

In addition to providing health and dental care, the staff at IRHDR work daily on research projects, community outreach projects and grant opportunities and collaborate with departments in the College of Health and Human Services and across campus.

“We want to do more of the research end,” Petty said. “We have fully developed the clinical side of the program. What we want to do now is more research on the data we’ve collected.”

Read more on the IRHDR website: program history, schedule of upcoming visits, wellness services, dental services, IRHDR staff.

Contact: Stacey Forsythe, (270) 745-6948.

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