Route Fifty – – By Markian Hawryluk – –
STERLING, Colo. — Tonja Jimenez is far from the only person driving an RV down Colorado’s rural highways. But unlike the other rigs, her 34-foot-long motor home is equipped as an addiction treatment clinic on wheels, bringing lifesaving treatment to the northeastern corner of the state, where patients with substance use disorders are often left to fend for themselves.
As in many states, access to addiction treatment remains a challenge in Colorado, so a new state program has transformed six RVs into mobile clinics to reach isolated farming communities and remote mountain hamlets. And, in recent months, they’ve become more crucial: During the coronavirus pandemic, even as brick-and-mortar addiction clinics have closed or stopped taking new patients, these six-wheeled clinics have kept going, except for a pit stop this summer for air conditioning repair.
Their health teams perform in-person testing and counseling. And as broadband access isn’t always a given in these rural spots, the RVs also provide a telehealth bridge to the medical providers back in the big cities. Working from afar, these providers can prescribe medicine to fight addiction and the ever-present risk of overdose, an especially looming concern amid the isolation and stress of the pandemic.
Mobile health clinics have been around for years, bringing vision tests, asthma treatment and dentistry to places without adequate care. But using health care on wheels to treat addiction isn’t as common. Nor is equipping such motor homes with telehealth capability that expands the reach of prescribing providers to treat hard-to-reach patients in these hard-to-reach rural areas.