The Health Wagon receives $1M grant
The Health Wagon in Wise County has been awarded a three-year, $1 million grant from the United Health Foundation, allowing the clinic to provide more specialty and diagnostic treatment to patients in six Southwest Virginia counties.
“It’s really one of the most awesome things that has ever happened to the Health Wagon. It’s a gamechanger for us,” says Dr. Teresa Gardner Tyson, executive director of the nonprofit free health care provider.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner attended the grant presentation ceremony Thursday in Wise, along with Tyson and United Health Foundation President Tracy Malone. Started by Minnesota-based health care insurer UnitedHealth Group in 1999, the United Health Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to improving health and health care.
“For nearly four decades, The Health Wagon has provided critical health care for Virginians,” Warner said in a statement. “This new partnership with the United Health Foundation will increase the reach and scope of the work The Health Wagon is doing to make sure people in Southwest Virginia are getting the care they need.”
The three-year grant will allow The Health Wagon to purchase new tools to provide mammograms, ultrasounds, X-rays and dental services to patients throughout the region.
A nurse practitioner, Tyson encounters many people with chronic illnesses and potential cancers, but without proper diagnostic tools on-site, she and her team can’t quickly confirm their suspicions. With funding from UHF and other partners, The Health Wagon will be able to provide additional mobile screenings, she says. It’s also considering the purchase of a mobile catheterization lab, which would make it easier to diagnose coronary artery disease, a prevalent health problem in Southwest Virginia, Tyson notes. The grant will also help The Health Wagon acquire transvaginal ultrasound equipment that will help clinicians diagnose and treat ovarian cancer more quickly.
“It’s a horrific, painful death,” Tyson says of ovarian cancer, which also occurs frequently in the region. Doctors who volunteer at the annual free clinic in Wise, she adds, were “shocked at the pathology they found,” comparing the high rates of heart disease and cancer to conditions in developing countries.
According to the 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment report by Norton Community Hospital, Wise recorded 310.6 cardiovascular deaths per 100,000 people in one year, in contrast to the state average of 155.9, and Wise County is ranked among the least healthy localities in the state, according to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings released last March.
Although this is The Health Wagon’s first partnership with United Health Foundation, some of the foundation’s clinicians have volunteered at the free Wise clinic held annually at the county fairgrounds.
“We’re very proud to partner with The Health Wagon,” Malone says. “They identified a need to expand their capability for cancer diagnostic care. We’re really taking those basic services to the next level and improving outcomes.”
Started in 1980, The Health Wagon provides a range of free health care services to residents of Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell, Lee, Scott and Wise counties and the city of Norton. It operates two mobile units, two stationary clinics and several pop-up free clinics.
The Health Wagon received an ultrasound machine in March via a joint donation from Netherlands-based health care nonprofit Philips Foundation, New Jersey health care provider network Barnabas Health and Maryland-based RAD-AID, a nonprofit group providing access to radiology treatment.
Beginning in summer 2020, the Health Wagon will take over operations of the annual July clinic at the Wise County fairgrounds, which has treated more than 100,000 patients for free since 1999. Formerly run by Tennessee-based Remote Area Medical (RAM) the clinic is being rebranded as Move Mountains Medical Mission and will offer most of the same services as before, including vision and dental care.
IMAGE COURTESY THE HEALTH WAGON: (L TO R) Health Wagon Medical Director Dr. Joseph Smiddy, Clinical Director Paula Hill, Executive Director Dr. Teresa Gardner Tyson, United Health Foundation President Tracy Malone, Sen. Mark Warner and Health Wagon founder Sister Bernie Kenny. Credit: Tim Cox