A mobile clinic operated by the nonprofit TrueCare has rolled into North County to provide free medical and dental care, and its first stop was the Brother Benno’s Center in Oceanside to help homeless people facing health challenges.
“This is so exciting,” Brother Benno Foundation community outreach coordinator Dennis Pinnick said as he stood outside the mobile clinic Monday. “This is something our founder Harold Kutler wanted for many years.”
Brother Benno’s began as a soup kitchen in the early 1980s and since 1991 has been at 3260 Production Ave. in a building once owned by Kutler, who died in 2017. It provides meals, clothes, a recovery program and other services for homeless people, but had not offered medical care until the mobile clinic debuted at the site on Oct. 31.
Inside the 36-foot-long vehicle, Dr. Jorge Otañez and two medical assistants examined several patients, drawing blood, prescribing medications and referring people to labs if they need x-rays or additional care.
“For me, this is the same as if I’m seeing a patient in a clinic,” he said about the vehicle, which includes an examination room and equipment for physicals, women’s health care, behavioral health, chiropractic treatment and immunizations. “It has everything I need.”
Otañez said more than half of the patients he has seen at Brother Benno’s have some sort of skin problem, such as a fungal or bacterial infection, which he said wasn’t surprising.
“A lot of the patients don’t have the ability to get a shower every single day,” he said. “A lot of them have foot problems as well because they don’t always have the right shoes and socks. There are times when I want to do more, like I wish I had some socks here that I could give them. But we need to work with other people to provide them what they need. It’s a team effort.”
Otañez said he is treating some patients who have not seen a doctor in three or four years and may not know what conditions they have.
The new mobile medical clinic serves about 12 to 15 people during each four-hour visit and costs about $600,000, which was funded through donations and money from the American Rescue Plan Act administered by the U.S. Health Resources and Services.
TrueCare also has a mobile dental clinic that serves about five people a visit. The two vehicles visit Brother Benno’s on alternate Mondays.
Rick Pruitt, 74, was one of the patients at the medical clinic this week.
“They helped me quite a bit,” he said. “They cleared up an infection with antibiotics.”
Pruitt, who has a rare motor neuron disease called Kennedy’s disease, uses an electric scooter to get around and lives in a mobile home. He said he is a patient with Scripps Health, but it is difficult to get to his doctor’s office.
Miguel Avila, 69, also was treated by Otañez on Monday. Through an interpreter, he said he had been given medication for a swollen foot and was referred to a clinic.
Another patient who did not want to give his name called the clinic extremely helpful and said he had blood drawn in the vehicle to diagnosis a medical condition.
Pinnick said the clinic will be especially helpful for homeless people who do not have transportation, and it may provide ongoing care for people who have gone years without seeing a doctor.
“What we’re doing is building trust here with our population,” he said. “They’re going to see that this is regular, and people are committed to helping them.”
Irene Torres, senior director of operations for TrueCare, said the mobile clinic was scheduled to visit a senior center in Perris on Tuesday and has been at an event at MiraCosta College and other places since its launch.
“This was a population with greatest need that we found,” she said about why TrueCare has scheduled weekly visits at Brother Benno’s.
The new mobile service is a return to its roots for TrueCare, which began as a mobile clinic in 1971. It has 19 health center and WIC offices in Carlsbad, Encinitas, Escondido, Oceanside, Perris, Ramona, San Marcos and Valley Center. Earlier this year, it launched a health center at Casa de Amparo in San Marcos.
TrueCare plans to launch two more mobile clinics in the near future and is expected to be able to reach 3,500 more people annually through the expanded fleet.