Local food bank and health center partner on mobile health services

James E. Sheehan Health Bus will visit food distribution sites in area in coming weeks

Rocking Horse Community Health Center and Second Harvest Food Bank are partnering to bring health services to food distribution sites in the area through a new mobile medical bus.

Leaders of the organizations, government officials and community members gathered at the Springfield Second Harvest location on Thursday to unveil the James E. Sheehan Health Bus in a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Dr. Yamini Teegala, the chief medical officer of Rocking Horse, said that two weeks from now the health center will begin testing the bus in the parking lot of its Limestone Street location. By mid-to-late September, the bus will begin visiting a Second Harvest distribution site, and by mid-October, the bus will be visiting distribution sites at least four days per week.

Teegala said multiple barriers are common for people who want to access health services: transportation and trust, for example.

Rocking Horse last year began screening its patients for social needs. Food insecurity was the top-ranked insecurity, Teegala said.

Second Harvest executive director Tyra Jackson said the partnership will have a lasting impact on Clark County, removing the barrier of access for many. More than 50,000 people in Clark, Champaign and Logan Counties are serviced by the foodbank annually, with more than 8 million meals distributed.

Food insecurity is known to impact health status, including putting individuals at a greatest risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease, Jackson said. Second Harvest surveyed people who used their services last year, and more than half of respondents indicated that they had “fair” to “poor” health and that they have a current health condition that needs medical attention.

Second Harvest has more than 20 pantry sites in Clark County, according to its website, and a mobile food distribution bus.

The partnership allows Rocking Horse to bring health services to at-risk people. Rocking Horse CEO Kent Youngman said the health center sees 14,000 patients and has 75,000 visits per year.

“[This] is the latest iteration in our mission to bring healthcare to underserved individuals who need a caring and compassionate medical home,” he said.

The bus is complete with a room for patients to be screened and undergo other services from health care providers and space for storing medical equipment and vaccines. Service provided by the bus will include primary health care, acute visit needs and vaccines, among other items.

The bus is named after Sheehan, the former CFO of Avetec, owner of the Sheehan Brothers vending business, Clark County commissioner and Catholic Central High School graduate who passed away in 2020.

“He was larger than life, and he was a huge champion of Springfield,” said Chris Wilson, co-founder of the Wilson Sheehan Foundation, which initiated the partnership between Second Harvest and Rocking Horse and funded the bus.

The Clark County Commission and Springfield City Commission issued proclamations on Thursday declaring Aug. 25, 2022 as “James E. Sheehan Health Bus Day.”

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