Photo courtesy of Patrick Luce. Students and faculty will be working together to provide mobile care to those in need.

On Nov. 28, the University of Rhode Island will release its new Rhode to Health Mobile Unit, a vehicle that will make HIV care and treatment more accessible.

The total cost was close to $400,000 and was made possible by the state through the Ryan White program, which provides essential support services to people living with HIV who do not have health insurance or are underinsured. URI collaborated with Paul Loberti, the director/founder of Rhode Island Centers of Excellence Integrating HIV Care, Support and Treatment.

“We’re partnering with the state to bring URI into the fold here of HIV care and treatment in the state of Rhode Island,” Brian Blissmer, director of the Institute for Integrated Health and Innovation, said. “Most of the HIV care and treatment happens in Providence, so as we look in South County, it’s more challenging for those individuals to get their care and treatment so we looked into how we could provide a resource that can help bridge and connect those individuals a little better to the existing system of care.”

Loberti is the project director for the Ryan White program and offered the grant to URI because the University has all the facilities and departments available for the organization and construction. Students will have the opportunities to learn from other professionals and have an extensive outreach in the community.

“It’s an unprecedented opportunity, and we’re pretty excited,” Loberti said. “I think it’s a huge advantage for the URI community and URI can give back to the state. That’s a huge benefit to both URI and the community.”

Blissmer explained that inside the vehicle there are two soundproof multi-purpose exam rooms that can be used for clinical and behavioral health care, an intake and screening area, a medical freezer and refrigerator, areas for blood work and a half bathroom. In addition, he noted that teams of faculty and students from the College of Nursing, the College of Pharmacy and College of Health Sciences will be working in the vehicle as the different sites.

“We’re putting together a student team that will include coursework and the ability to work in the vehicle as well,” Blissmer said. “What we really do is bring resources, we can bring our own space to clinics and sites.”

As of right now, Blissmer anticipates that the vehicle will be used two to three days a week. He realizes that there are a lot of potential cases in which the vehicle can be used, but as of right now, the specific use from the funding given is for HIV care and treatment. The University has been discussing possible further uses with partners, but until its launch and first few operations, no further uses will be granted.

“The bulk of what will be happening is this intensive integrated case management assistance so anybody that’s living with HIV in the Ryan White program,” Blissmer said. “By having clinical capacity between Nursing and Pharmacy and behavioral health capacity with psychology, we’ll have a team that can-do services as you need. We’re working with partners throughout the state to try and identify what help is needed, what schedule makes sense, what are the appropriate locations. Those are the conversations that are ongoing now. It’s about providing care for HIV patients.”

Loberti expressed that he wants the unit to also train students, so they can continue the vital work and research that is required for the treatment and care of HIV. He explained that URI students are the future.

“We’ll train a group of students and faculty that will carry on the vital and important work of treating HIV,” Loberti said. “Educating and training students and faculty to help us from some of the burnout that’s happening in the workforce today. We’re hoping this will help people with HIV and behavioral health issues.”

The ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at the Robert J. Higgins Welcome Center and will include a speaking program that features Blissmer, Loberti, Provost DeHayes and Nicole Alexander Scott. The vehicle will also be there for tours of the inside, and Rhody will be in attendance dressed in a lab coat.

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Ian Weiner
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