As the world has become increasingly mobile, Empower Yolo and its community partners in the healthcare industry are adapting to provide victims of domestic violence and their children with medical services, no matter where they are. One way this is being done is through mobile medical clinics and medical teams. One of the biggest advantages of mobile medicine is that it provides greater accessibility to medical care for all.

Empower Yolo in partnership with CommuniCare and Sutter Valley Hospital received a grant from the California Office of Emergency Services to provide more comprehensive medical services to Yolo County’s most vulnerable populations including victims of abuse.

CommuniCare’s Mobile Medical Team

One of Empower Yolo’s community partners, CommuniCare is providing medical services to the community and Empower Yolo’s clients through its Mobile Medical Team (MMT). Empower Yolo has been partnering with MMT since 2020 on other projects, but is now focusing on serving domestic violence victims and their children. “Partnering with Empower Yolo allows our team to reach a part of our community that is otherwise difficult to find. Victims of violence and abuse typically avoid public spaces where we provide services,” says Suzanne Portnoy, DNP, Associate Director of Mobile Medicine.

MMT supports the most vulnerable patients in Yolo County including survivors of abuse, migrant workers, the uninsured, and the unhoused population. The team provides preventive screenings, wound care, health education, prescriptions, and primary care follow-up. The team also offers referrals for behavioral health, stress, depression, anxiety, and substance use services. MMT also supports survivors of abuse at Empower Yolo’s emergency safe house and main office and provides care to victims of domestic violence who are COVID-positive and staying in one of the county’s Project Room Key-sponsored hotels.

“The mobile medicine team serves Yolo County residents who are experiencing unstable housing. We provide medical care, counseling, treatment for addiction, and connection to services,” says Portnoy.

This partnership aligns our missions of providing safe and healthy communities. “Our mission is to improve health outcomes for Yolo County’s most vulnerable residents. We do that by supporting care transitions, providing ongoing medical and behavioral health care, and linking patients to brick-and-mortar services,” says Portnoy.

MMT consists of a nurse practitioner, physician, registered nurse, medical assistant, peer advocate, and case manager.  The team goes to encampments, parks, parking lots, day programs, shelters, and migrant camps for farm workers. “We are on the streets of Woodland, Davis, and West Sacramento every week. We serve rural areas on an as-needed basis; we serve all comers – insurance or documents are not required to receive services,” said Portnoy.

MMT comes to Empower Yolo’s Woodland office once a month to do COVID testing, COVID care, and general wellness exams.  The team also provides care to help victims of abuse and asylum seekers. “We provide all the regular services that our team offers. In addition, we can perform forensic medical evaluations.  I have performed over 50 forensic medical and psychological asylum evaluations. I also teach and mentor other clinicians on this work. I use the Istanbul Protocol to guide my exams and documentation,” says Portnoy.

Empower Yolo facilitates four medical clinic services a month for clients, one at its KE shelter (our smaller 8-bed safe house for homeless victims of crime), two at the Wallace and Vannucci shelter, and one at the main office at 175 Walnut Street in Woodland.

“We are grateful for the partnership with Empower Yolo. The community can support our program with donations of socks, toiletries, and gently used clothes,” said Portnoy.

Sutter Health Family Medicine Residency Program

The Sutter Family Medicine Residency Program Clinic (“Sutter FMRP Clinic” or the “clinic”) is also a partner in the grant and has been providing medical services to survivors and their children at Empower Yolo’s safe house since 2021.  The great benefit for clients is that the clinic provides healthcare and information regarding their health without them having to leave the shelter.

Victims have additional barriers when trying to access medical care. Often their insurance is provided by the abuser who can use that information to locate the victim. Sutter FMRP Clinic believes it’s important to support the healthcare needs of survivors of domestic violence and their families. “Of the many difficult things that happen when someone is experiencing domestic violence, missing out on health care is yet another issue, since oftentimes health insurance may not be available, transport may be difficult, etc. Having some health care available at no cost, and located right at the shelter will hopefully remove some barriers to obtaining medical assistance,” says Dr. William Zepf, Sutter Family Medicine Residency faculty & physician attending at Empower Yolo clinic.

Sutter FMRP Clinic supports the healthcare needs of victims of abuse and their children safely and confidentially.  The team, led by Dr. Samantha Kettle provides safe house residents annual/physical exams for adults, or other health issues (diabetes, blood pressure, etc.), pregnancy care, infant and child visits, family planning (birth control pills and other methods), medication refills, and health education.

The clinic allows safe house families to be seen by professionals and access high-quality health care and helps clients financially by reducing the number of copayments, clinic fees, and transportation costs.  The clinic works with the shelter staff to identify the current needs of the safe house residents and offers an educational presentation, such as diabetes, hypertension, or reproductive options followed by wellness exams.

With the new grant funding the clinic will also provide in-person or online Spanish educational classes regarding vaccines for adults and children and will offer wellness classes in Spanish. The clinic provides one week of medical care for clients on-site at the safe house, and now an additional week of educational programming. The clinic recently provided a teen health education class that was well attended by clients.

The class held at the safe house for teens was on healthy relationships. The teens liked that they knew people in the class so they did not feel so alone learning about this topic. They also appreciated learning about red flags in an unhealthy relationship, specifically control issues.

“I learned about control and what it looks like; a partner wanting to know who I talk to, where I go, and them not letting me do what I want are all forms of control.” – a teen client

Healthcare providers are in a unique position to help victims of domestic violence because they can help treat their injuries – both physical and mental health conditions – and help provide information, resources, prevention education, referrals, and support.

Programs like the Sutter FMRP Clinic and MMT in partnership with Empower Yolo help respond to more clients comprehensively.  These partnerships create an improved coordinated response to all survivors of family violence by coordinating existing services so survivors can more effectively navigate through multiple systems when they have limited windows of time and urgent needs.  We are grateful to the Sutter FMRP Clinic and MMT for partnering with us in our mission of promoting safe, healthy, and resilient communities.

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