Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic showed off its newest vehicle last week. The mobile Testing and Education Van will soon be promoting a message of good reproductive and sexual health by encouraging people to get tested for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, pick up birth control, and make appointments for additional services at a health center.
The customized 27-foot Winnebago – now a “SmartWheels” mobile education and testing van – made its official debut at a ribbon-cutting ceremony outside the Smithtown Health Center. The vehicle will visit health fairs and at-risk populations to bring services to people who might not otherwise come to a health center. Designed to attract attention, the brightly colored vehicle is wrapped with nine life-size photos, the new Planned Parenthood logo, and a “Take Care of Yourself” slogan in English and Spanish.
Reina Schiffrin, President/CEO of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic (PPHP), said the van is meant to be noticed and draw in passersby. She noted that so many people need the services offered by Planned Parenthood but they either don’t know they’re available or are hesitant to walk into a health center.
“We need to be able to go out into the community – to the places where people socialize and hang out – and reach those who need us the most,” Schiffrin said. “With SmartWheels, we’re able to bring services directly to them in a place where they already feel comfortable. Not only do they get the information they need immediately, but many go one step further and make an appointment at one of our centers.”
PPHP Board Vice Chair Ann Pogue-Campbell, Mary Beth Guyther of the Long Island Community Foundation, and Assemblyman Steve Englebright also spoke about how the van will help Planned Parenthood provide more accessible health care. Supporters toured the van and met the staff members who will be taking it into the community. The van will travel around Suffolk County and be housed at the Smithtown Health Center.
SmartWheels brings accurate confidential information about reproductive health directly to people who might not seek services in a more conventional office setting. Visitors are encouraged to come on board to get tested for STDs, learn about their birth control options and emergency contraception, ask questions about sexual health, and pick up free condoms. With a clinician on board, the new vehicle (which is larger than the 18-year-old van it replaces) will allow more patients to be tested and treated for sexually transmitted diseases, as well as continue testing services for HIV. Urine-based pregnancy testing can be offered and more birth control options provided, including oral contraceptives and other hormonal options.
The larger size provides for two rooms separated by a privacy door to accommodate confidential patient visits, as well as a bathroom to allow for urine-based pregnancy tests. The van also has additional seating space that slides out when the van is parked. The clinician and educators will have access to a laptop computer connected to an electronic health records system so they can make health center appointments for patients who require additional services.
Staff members take the van to health fairs, festivals, colleges, community events, and to visit residents living in transitional housing settings. Last year, PPHP reached more than 8,000 people through its SmartWheels vans and tested 857 people for HIV.
PPHP raised the needed funds over a 12-month period from its four-county region to purchase, customize and staff the van with an educator and part-time clinician. In addition to support from the Long Island Community Foundation, a division of The New York Community Trust, other major donors included The Ralph Schlaeger Charitable Foundation, The Richard and Mary Morrison Foundation, and an anonymous contributor.
Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, Inc. (PPHP) is the 20th largest affiliate of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and operates 11 health centers in Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties. In 2012, PPHP provided services to more than 33,000 patients in more than 66,000 visits.