“I was always sick because I couldn’t get my medicine.”

Michael Stephens has diabetes and has been hospitalized repeatedly over the past 18 months.

“I was being hospitalized so much that the paramedics knew my name,” he said.

Without a home and a job, the 41-year-old struggled to manage his condition. But during one of his hospital stays at Ascension Florida’s St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside in Jacksonville, a case manager took notice and reached out to the St. Vincent’s Mobile Health Outreach Ministry, which brings fully staffed doctors-offices-on-wheels to areas of the community where services are most needed. The ministry was featured recently by The Florida Times Union.

“We are coming into the community,” said Claudia Portell, nurse coordinator for the adult division of the program. “We are meeting [patients] where they live.”

In fiscal year 2017, the program provided nearly 18,000 services to children and adults in need. In addition to primary care visits, services offered vision and hearing screenings, dental care, flu shots, school physicals and immunizations.

It took Michael some time to begin visiting the mobile unit in his neighborhood, but once he did, his life began to turn around. He is no longer homeless, has a job and even a way to get around town. His blood sugar is under control too.

“Now I feel really good,” he said. “I’ve lost some weight too!”

He visits with the physician monthly and gets refills on the essentials, including his insulin. Since his visits began, he has not been hospitalized for his diabetes.

“If you could’ve seen him the first time he walked in – he wouldn’t make eye contact and spoke in a beaten down voice,” Claudia said. “We have had the pleasure of watching him over the last eight to nine months become much more animated – and he’s proud of his job.”

Claudia said a holistic approach has really helped Michael.

“It’s that type of experience that makes it so rewarding for me – that we have been able to have a small impact,” she said. “We’ve given this man the tools that he needs to be able to take control of his life.”


Photo: Nurse coordinator Claudia Portell meets with patient Michael Stephens.