Clemson’s Sullivan Center to unveil world’s first solar-powered mobile health clinic
CLEMSON — The world’s first 100 percent solar-powered, mobile health clinic will be unveiled Thursday at Clemson University Joseph F. Sullivan Center on campus. The clinic will provide educational opportunities for Clemson students and increase outreach efforts to underserved populations in the Upstate and beyond. The new, one-of-a-kind vehicle includes other features that increase its efficiency and versatility in its role as the mobile arm of the health care center.
Dr. Paula Watt, Sullivan Center director, has seen the center go through two previous mobile clinics since her arrival in 1996. She said the benefit of a mobile clinic is twofold: it allows the center to effectively reach underserved communities and demonstrates to Clemson students the challenges in the care of vulnerable patients. A best-in-class mobile unit will further enhance the center’s ability to achieve these goals.
“We did immeasurable homework on what we wanted, because this will be a rolling billboard for Clemson University and the outreach it provides,” Watt said. “This vehicle is truly a dream come true for me and our staff.”
The height of mobile medical technology
The clinic is the most ambitious project to date for its manufacturer, Odulair, which has built dozens of mobile clinics for other organizations, such as the Mandela Kids Foundation in Africa. Watt worked closely with Anita Chambers, president and CEO of Odulair, to create a unique, durable design for the clinic.
One of Watt’s primary concerns was the clinic’s off-road capabilities, so Odulair started the project with a four-wheel drive base so the clinic could tackle almost any terrain. The clinic features flexClinic™ technology, so that its walls can move and convert into space for one to five rooms. The clinic can be used as one large patient education room for 20 people or a combination of rooms for lab, reception and exam room services.
When parked, the clinic draws 100 percent of its power from a special solar battery system, which eliminates the noise and fumes from a traditional generator and decreases operation and maintenance costs. Chambers said the clinic’s solar feature distinguishes it from other mobile clinics and is the world’s first mobile clinic to incorporate 100 percent solar operations.
“I think we’ve all dreamed of using solar power in this way for a long time, but the technology is finally at a stage where it can be useful,” Chambers said. “Mobile clinics are required to sit in farm fields or other remote locations for eight or more hours a day, so the use of solar power is a huge improvement.”
Empowerment through health education
Watt said the Sullivan Center will use the clinic primarily in Greenville, Oconee, Pickens and Anderson counties to serve more people than ever before and provide valuable educational experience to Clemson students. She said the student-learning impact alone is huge, with more than 7,500 recorded hours of one-on-one teaching with Clemson nursing and other allied health students last year. A recent successful application supported by the joint medical and nursing boards for South Carolina will allow access to care across the entire state.
While the clinic meets some immediate needs for patients, it also provides breast and cervical cancer screenings and connects them to a regular health care provider. However, the “lifestyle medicine” component the clinic offers is arguably the most powerful tool at its disposal. Watt, Sullivan Center staff and Clemson students educate patients on how to manage physical activity, stress and nutrition, and these messages can now be echoed through the large television screens that provide interactive education tailored to the audience.
Access to care is not the only issue this new unit can address. Access to quality food is a key component to improved health outcomes. The new unit is equipped with food storage baskets that allow cooperative demonstration projects to provide fresh fruits and vegetables. When this concept is combined with nutritional counseling, it not only allows the team to talk about the importance of having fresh food in one’s diet, it also allows them to deliver the food on-site.
“We’re equipping people to take care of themselves in the long term,” Watt said. “When people take charge of their own health, the physician’s job is easier and there is a higher likelihood of successful prevention, treatment and management if and when a major medical need arises.”
Regional and state impact one patient at a time
The clinic was made possible by state support led by Sen. Thomas Alexander (R-Walhalla). Alexander regularly champions outreach and access to care for underserved populations, and he said the Sullivan Center can become the model for other organizations that wish to pursue the evolution of health care through the empowerment of individuals.
Alexander said support given to the Sullivan Center was based on its track record of service and its longstanding emphasis on the importance of access to care. He thinks mobile clinics will continue to provide evidence-based data that proves they are an essential component of effective health care in areas of the state that are often underserved.
“It’s critical that the state make it possible for organizations like the Sullivan Center to bring health care to folks who need it most,” Alexander said. “The state should support any mission that leads to better health outcomes, and the preventative and educational components provided by mobile clinics have proven time and again to do just that.”
Watt said she is ready to take that mission and literally roll with it, preferably up a steep hill or down a muddy path upon which no other mobile unit can reliably tread. Odulair claims the clinic should last well past 2030, and Watt said the Sullivan Center looks forward to making it a second home for years to come.
“Our educational mission is to see students truly embody the Clemson “determined spirit” with these experiences,” Watt said. “They will rise to the challenges faced by the individuals this clinic serves and lead the way to improved health care across our state and beyond.”
The mobile clinic unveiling event will span three days. All events will take place behind Robert C. Edwards Hall at 201 Epsilon Zeta Drive on campus. Watt, Alexander and Chambers will be joined by Joseph F. Sullivan himself at 9 a.m. Thursday for the unveiling event and reception. Friday, the mobile clinic will be open for tours and flu shots, and a tailgate showcase will allow the public to tour the clinic Saturday during the Clemson-Pittsburgh football game.