And some buses are outfitted with medical examination areas, staffed by healthcare providers determined to give uninsured children and those from low-income communities the care they need to thrive.
These are the mobile pediatric units designed and operated by the Children’s Health Fund (CHF)’s national network partners. Through them, providers offer no-cost, comprehensive healthcare, ranging from physicals to dental exams to mental health assessments, to helping families meet determinants of health through healthy food and housing. The 25 national network partners service low-income households across 15 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. In Miami-Dade County, CHF mobile pediatric units are in operation five days a week, largely serving immigrant families.
“Many of these kids have never seen a pediatrician,” says Dr. Lisa Gwynn, associate professor of clinical pediatrics and public health services at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She has been working on CHF’s mobile pediatric units since 2010.
“These kids may not have the right documentation or paperwork to prove that they’ve been seen by a physician or that their immunizations are up to date,” says Gwynn. “But we see about 20 kids a day, and they walk out with everything they need to be able to be enrolled in school and to lead a healthy life.”
The reality today is that half of children and young people in the United States obtain health insurance through government programs such as Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) if they are insured at all. Further, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that immigrant children and young people are twice as likely to be uninsured than their U.S.-born counterparts. Without health insurance, families often cannot afford the high cost of healthcare in the U.S. This lack of access, in addition to challenging financial and linguistic barriers, robs young people of the chance to build a foundation for a healthy life.
CHF is dedicated to providing healthcare services to young people in underserved communities regardless of financial or immigration status. In addition to deploying mobile pediatric units in communities, it offers education and advocacy programs. Through its “Healthy and Ready to Learn” initiative, CHF partners directly with schools in New York City to educate children and their parents about leading healthy lives and to address health barriers to learning. All of these services are offered at no cost, and in part, thanks to grants from Comic Relief US and Red Nose Day fundraising by Walgreens customers, team members and suppliers over the past eight years.
Dr. Arturo Brito, pediatrician and president and chief executive officer of CHF, knows what the struggle can be like firsthand. He too is an immigrant, having moved to the U.S. with his family from Cuba via Nicaragua at the age of 7. Now, he has dedicated his life to battling the inequities similar to those he experienced.
“I have had the lived experience of an immigrant to this country, who watched my family struggle because of our lack of access to healthcare,” says Brito. “I gravitated to pediatrics in medical school because I realized that by providing comprehensive healthcare in the early years you can give children the best chance to thrive and succeed over the course of their lives.”
In 2022, mobile pediatric units in the Miami-Dade area served nearly 8,800 patients and administered nearly 10,000 vaccines. Across the country, healthcare services were provided in 445 urban and rural sites through more than 513,000 patient visits in homeless shelters, community centers and schools. Thanks to donations from Walgreens customers and team members through Red Nose Day, CHF has been able to expand not only its operations, like furnishing a new mobile unit in 2020, but also increase its range of specialties.
“The need keeps growing,” says Gwynn. “Luckily, we’ve been able to bring in a second unit to the Miami-Dade area. We call it ‘Shots To Go’ because it’s more of an immunization bus that visits schools. We’ve brought on a clinical psychologist and a social worker. We can host asthma clinics where we provide the medications and supplies that asthma patients need. It’s all possible because of fundraising.”
Gwynn recalls one patient who had been told they had a significant heart problem, but the family lacked the resources to work with a specialist to diagnose the specific condition. CHF was able to host a cardiology clinic, where a specialist confirmed it was a mild heart murmur, and the patient would not need further treatment. Transportation to multiple specialists for chronic conditions can be a hurdle for these families. That’s why Brito has big goals for how additional funds could help CHF support more children.
“We want to expand our services both through our mobile buses and by taking advantage of other methods of care, like telehealth,” says Brito. “We also want to bring more subspecialists directly into the communities. It can still be a challenge to get a child from point A to point B to see a neurologist, for instance, or to see a cardiologist or a dermatologist.”
On May 25, Gwynn and Brito will be donning their Red Noses in celebration of Red Nose Day and to thank customers for the critical support they provide to help CHF succeed. Not to be outdone, the buses will be donning their Red Noses, too.
“All we're doing is giving these folks the opportunities that the rest of us have,” says Brito. “When you think about families immigrating with nothing, you think, ‘my God, how do they do this?’ We aim to celebrate the strength of these children and their families. On their behalf, I want to thank everyone who has donated and supported Children's Health Fund through Red Nose Day. The generosity of Walgreens customers really makes a difference in our work.”
Meet some of the families impacted by CHF healthcare providers in the mobile pediatric clinics, made possible through Walgreens and Comic Relief US’s Red Nose Day fundraising.