HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Hampton University has introduced its new mobile clinic in an effort to serve underserved communities with COVID-19 vaccinations.
It’s a vehicle for outreach to people who are being affected disproportionately by the pandemic, and once the pandemic’s over, it can be repurposed.
“We are going to be able to reach those citizens who can’t come to us. It is invaluable,” said Dr. Michelle Penn-Marshall, university vice president for research.
University officials say it will help overcome objections from people who don’t trust vaccinations. Vice president Bill Thomas cited new data that shows how the pandemic has shortened the lifespan of black men more so than white men.
“Our mortality rate has been decreased by three whole years. For white men, only one. That’s why it’s so important for us to get this vehicle on the road,” Thomas said.
The converted RV has a patient evaluation area, special freezers that are 20 degrees and 80 degrees below freezing, and an area for lab analysis. The company that customized the mobile clinic says it’s one-of-a-kind, but it can be used for other purposes.
“We can use those freezers and refrigerators for other purposes. We can train students and we can educate people in the community,” Penn-Marshall said.
The university points to suspicions in the Black community when it comes to vaccinations in general. They are rooted in the Tuskegee experiments of the 1930s. Black men, infected with syphilis were not informed of their condition and denied available treatment.
Penn-Marshall says that is where Hampton University can leverage its brand.
“We are a school of color. We are a historically Black college and university. So when they see us providing the vaccinations it helps to build trust.”
Hampton University President Dr. William Harvey requested a “lab in a bus or motor home” to help distribute the vaccine to underserved areas around Hampton Roads, and Penn-Marshall spearheaded the project.
STX Inc., an Ashland-based company that builds and refurbishes laboratories, is currently renovating all of the biology and chemistry laboratories at Hampton and converted the brand new, full-sized mobile home into a state-of-the-art rolling clinic. It is wrapped with the HU logo.
10 On Your Side’s Kiahnna Patterson spoke with Terry Looney, the president of STX.
He says the unit may help educate Hampton University students or provide health care for underserved communities.
“Areas like the Eastern Shore or Southwest Virginia, those are hard areas to get to. People like you and me, we don’t think about that. We just get in the car and go where we have to go. Some of these people do not have the resources to do that, or they do not have the health to do that. There are so many limiting factors and it’s not just there,” Looney said.
STX partnered with a Roanoke-based company to work on the vehicle for about four months. Now, organizations in other states like West Virginia are interested in duplicating the project.
“We have big plans for this. We see this as a development of a whole new branch of our company,” Looney said.
The RV is scheduled to be delivered to Hampton University at 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon.
Looney said Hampton University paid for the project.
“Hampton University has the financing, capacity, and knowledge through our subject matter experts in our Schools of Nursing, Pharmacy, Science, Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications, and the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute to help in fight against this terrible virus,” said Dr. William R. Harvey, Hampton University President. “ Hampton University is uniquely qualified and prepared to deliver this much needed life saving service to our underserved communities.”
Hampton University will also work with the Hampton VA Medical Center and use the HU Convocation Center as a vaccination site for veterans and their caregivers starting March 8.
Stay with WAVY.com for updates.