Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

Alan Robinson (right) and Kris Povlsen
Alan Robinson, right, received a DCP/SAFE award from lifelong friend Kris Povlsen.

To obtain a print-quality JPEG of this photo, contact the Office of Public Affairs at (815) 753-1681 or e-mail

News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

November 8, 2007

Mobile health trailer earns admiration, makes impact

DeKalb — Alan Robinson won an award Tuesday, Oct. 30, at the annual meeting of the DeKalb County Partnership for a Safe, Active and Family Environment.

At least it looked like Robinson, the director of outreach in NIU’s College of Health and Human Sciences, who stood to shake the hand of lifelong friend Kris Povlsen and collect the handsome plaque. Povlsen even told the assembly a story from his childhood, of how the two-years-older Robinson permitted Povlsen to ride along on his bicycle paper route around Sycamore.

But the DCP/SAFE Certificate of Achievement truly belongs to the college’s Mobile Health Assessment Unit, Robinson says.

Renovated in late 2005 with a grant of $10,626 from the DeKalb County Community Foundation, the trailer serves “vulnerable populations” often without transportation, such as children, the elderly and, primarily, Hispanic families.

This August alone, it traveled to Dixon, Mendota, Ottawa and Streator with certified health care providers from NIU’s Tri-County Community Health Center to serve the Head Start population in those communities. Tri-County is one of the few medical facilities that accepts Medicaid.

In late July, the trailer attended a health and back-to-school fair at Conexion Communidad, where the services that day included eye screenings. It also made a trip to Kishwaukee Hospital for a health carnival where Wellness Center staff used part of the trailer to conduct bone density screenings.

“The trailer is getting more and more attention,” Robinson said, “and we’re able to use it in more and more places.”

For the last two years, Robinson has dispatched the trailer to the DeKalb Public Schools administration building on South Fourth Street to conduct last-minute physicals and give vaccines to schoolchildren who otherwise are turned away from classrooms. The trailer was open from noon to 7 p.m. for two days.

This August, 43 students received either school physicals or immunizations or both. A similar number took advantage of the trailer in 2006. Many qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch.

“We made sure the kids didn’t have to miss any days out of school,” said Cherry Felton, a nurse at NIU’s Tri-County Clinic. “The parents said, ‘Oh, I’m so glad. I didn’t have to take an extra day off work, and I wanted my child to be in school every day.’ ”

“It’s very important children get into school just as quickly as possible. Every day they’re out they get further and further behind,” added Sue Orem, the recently retired literacy coordinator for the DeKalb Public Schools. “Attendance is critical, especially in the first few weeks when a lot of ground rules are laid down.”

Bette Chilton, director of personal health services for the DeKalb County Health Department, said the trailer has lifted the pressure off her staff.

“During the fall, when we’re trying to meet the need of the community for school physicals, this year and in years past we get down to crunch time with the schools starting and we don’t have any availability for appointments. People can’t get into doctors’ offices,” Chilton said. “It’s been a huge relief to the community. When we’re not able to serve our clients, the trailer is a place we can refer them to, especially our low-income clients.”

Felton, who works as the trailer’s nurse alongside a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant, a phlebotomist and a certified nurse’s assistant, said the trailer helps to spread the word about Tri-County and the acceptance of Medicaid.

“With us being the only real rural clinic, and the only one that takes Medicaid, these patients actually need this really, really bad. We’re making sure they’re keeping up with their physicals and their health care, and we’re educating them,” Felton said. “A lot of people don’t know about Tri-County being here and the services we offer.”

Indeed, the trailer stemmed from a local survey of residents for whom English is a second language.

Many reported they only went to the doctor when they were sick and, if sick, went to hospitals, the emergency room, doctors’ offices and health departments. They lacked medical insurance, and no less than 82 percent took medicine on a permanent basis, but only a small percentage had prescription assistance.

Meanwhile, language posed a major obstacle to their access to health care. Few participated in dental care because of the language barriers and costs, and home remedies were used in close to half of the respondents’ cases.

The clinic-on-wheels has providers who can interact with the Hispanic population, and the informational brochures will feature English and Spanish.

“It’s really a wonderful service,” Orem said. “It does meet a huge, critical need, and a growing need, of a population that, for now, the only option is the hospital emergency room.”

For more information about the mobile health trailer, call Robinson at (815) 753-8996.

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