Mobile clinic brings new care option to Middlebury
MIDDLEBURY — Mountain Health Center is based in Bristol, but its reach and care extends well into Middlebury, thanks to a mobile medical van stationed every Tuesday and Thursday in the parking lot of the former St. Mary’s Catholic School building off Shannon Street.
Dr. Will Porter is in the driver’s seat of the new service, with two essential colleagues riding shotgun — medication assisted treatment Clinician Amy Kittredge and Medical Assistant Kelly O’Keefe. The trio hit the road last August and have been seeing as many as 25 patients from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on each of the two days they spend on the St. Mary’s property.
Realizing some potential clients can’t easily make it to Bristol, Mountain Health officials reasoned that a van would allow health care providers to bridge the distance to patients. So the organization successfully applied for a grant to bankroll the new van.
The vehicle includes an exam room, a counseling office and a triage area. The space is pretty small, but its capabilities are enormous. In it providers can dispense medical care, counseling, behavioral health advice, and a whole lot more. The van also can be outfitted to deliver dental services.
Porter acknowledged it took a while to get used to the confined quarters, which sometimes must accommodate six people at once — three patients and three providers. But Porter, Kittredge and O’Keefe have gotten used to it.
“You sometimes have to do a little do-si-do-ing,” Porter said with a chuckle.
Porter is a general practice physician who has become one of the county’s top medication assisted treatment providers. And he’s had no shortage of patients looking to wean themselves from addiction to opioids. Appointments must be made through Mountain Health at 453-5028.
Medication assisted treatment is tailored to individual patients; there’s no one-size-fits-all regimen, Porter noted. Frequently, the treatment plan includes either Suboxone or Vivitrol, medications that have proved effective in treating individuals with addiction issues. Porter stressed no drugs or money are kept in the van.
Clients who prefer to be seen at the van hail from all parts of Addison County — except for Bristol, where they can visit Mountain Health Center. Some don’t have vehicles, or they have mobility and/or employment issues that preclude them from taking public transportation.
Mountain Health is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). As such, it’s a nonprofit organization whose health care providers are committed to providing care to underserved populations. The mission of an FQHC aligns with the Health Services and Resources Administration. An FQHC must offer a sliding fee scale to ensure patients receive care regardless of their ability to pay. FQHCs have a governing board of directors that is directly representative of the populations they serve.
WHERE TO PARK
Fortunately, Porter and his colleagues didn’t have to search far and wide for a place to put the van into service in Middlebury.
Father Luke Austin, pastor of St. Mary’s, was receptive to hosting the van on church property.
“Father Luke and I had had many conversations about the issue of addiction and its impact on people in the community, and the need for available treatment,” Porter recalled. “He’s shown himself to me to be someone very supportive of treatment and getting help to people who need it. When we called to say, ‘We need a place to have the van,’ he brought that to the diocese and was able to host us here.”
The presence of a mobile clinic made sense to Austin, and the service dovetails with a directive from Bishop Christopher Coyne. The bishop, Austin noted, has asked church leaders to be attentive to the needs of those who are struggling with addiction and health concerns.
Prior to taking the pulpit at the churches of St. Mary’s in Middlebury, St. Bernadette in Bridport and St. Genevieve in Shoreham in 2017, Austin spent three years as pastor of the Church of Nativity in Swanton and the St. Louis Church in Highgate Center.
He recalled Franklin County as having been “ground zero” for the opioid epidemic in Vermont.
“I was able to see (the problem) with my own eyes,” Austin said. “I had parishioners who lost children due to overdoses; I worked with people who were trying to come into recovery. I remember one year seeing the overdose deaths in the U.S. at 70,000. I asked myself, ‘How is that possible?’ So I think those two things really impacted me personally.”
Austin credited Dr. Porter for being the driving force behind the van.
“It seems like he’s heard a call within a call, to meet this need and serve this population,” Austin said. “He’s really been the mover and the shaker for addiction in Middlebury and the (Addison County) area. I’m just a support player here.”
Dr. Porter said Mountain Health is looking for someone to manage the van, which could lead to its use on a broader scale. Schools, the Counseling Service of Addison County and local homeless shelters are examples of where the vehicle could ultimately make rounds, according to Porter.
“The van is equipped to provide the full range of services provided at Mountain Health Center,” he said. “The plan is to use it in many locations throughout the county.”
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.