The Norwalk Community Health Center will be even busier in the coming months.
The center on Connecticut Avenue, which provides medical, dental, mental health and addiction services, is preparing to serve more patients because of the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, and it's also adding another stop for its medical mobile unit, which is a large bus outfitted with medical equipment.
Eva Beau, site manager of the medical mobile unit, said the Norwalk Community Health Center serves about 200 people a day in its 120 Connecticut Ave. building and that its medical mobile unit travels to a homeless shelter and public housing complex during the week and serves an additional eight to 10 people a day.
The medical mobile unit travels to the Open Door Shelter on Merritt Street in the mornings on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and travels to Washington Village in South Norwalk in the afternoons on Tuesday and Thursday. Soon, the medical mobile unit will add the Roodner Court public housing complex to its trip log, Beau said.
"When we expand to Roodner Court, that will make us out in the community a full day," she said.
Jaquel Patterson, director of operations for the Norwalk Community Health Center, said the center also plans to use the bus to get people registered for health insurance.
"We're going to use the medical mobile unit to let people know we can help them sign up," Beau said.
On Monday, the Norwalk Community Health Center kicked off its celebration of National Health Center Week with tours of its medical mobile unit and a keynote address by Dr. Jewel Mullen, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health. The theme of this year's National Health Center Week is "Transforming Health Care in our Local Communities."
Beau said activities at the center during National Health Center Week focused on healthy foods on Monday; Zumba on Tuesday; healthy resources on Wednesday; and men's health on Thursday.
A family fun day, with a cookout and bounce house, is set for Friday, Aug. 16, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and all are invited, she said.
Patterson said the week was meant to celebrate the work that community health centers do to provide quality health care to people in their communities.
"All the community health centers nationally, most are celebrating in some way," she said. "It's a recognition of community health centers at large and what we do in the community."
Beau said patients at the Norwalk Community Health Center range from those without health insurance or with health insurance provided by the state to those who have private health insurance plans.
"We have people that come from Darien, Ridgefield, Wilton, from all over," she said. "We really have a mixture of patients here."
David Stayner, assistant clinical professor at Yale Medical School, said the building and medical mobile unit are designed to integrate medical, mental health and addiction services so patients don't have to travel to more than one place for treatment.
"This is an attempt to integrate all three," he said. "The great thing here is, we have such a commitment from the leadership to make that possible."
Stayner said patients' mental health can affect their physical health, and their physical health can affect their mental health. But systems of care in many health-care facilities are fragmented.
"Traditionally, they have to go to different locations," he said. "This is an attempt to work with whole persons so they don't drop through the cracks. I'm very excited about it. It's already having a really good effect."
Stayner said the Norwalk Community Health Center and its medical mobile unit, which went out into the community for the first time on Jan. 18, also are working to identify health problems before they reach the point where people go to an emergency room, which he said is the most expensive form of care.
"If you can link up with someone and discover they have hypertension that's not treated, you can help them before it becomes something serious," he said.
Nearly all of the services provided in the Norwalk Community Health Center's building can be provided on the bus, including medical and dental care and treating behavioral health issues, Beau said.
"We have a lot of services that we can bring to the community," Beau said, as she showed the bus' interior to Mullen and state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk. "We're getting a great response."
Duff said the Norwalk Community Health Center rapidly outgrew its former home on Water Street before it moved to its current home in April 2010.
"We saw what the need was in this community for good quality health care," he said.
Duff said that many people in the country are insured, though there are still many who are uninsured, under-insured or lack access to quality health care.
Douglas Olson, chief medical officer at the Norwalk Community Health Center, said Mullen was instrumental in obtaining certificates and licenses so the medical mobile unit could provide treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues and that "her heart is in the community health center world."
Mullen, the former medical director of a neighborhood health center in Springfield, Mass., said community health centers are viewed by many people as providers of care for people who lack health insurance. But she said the "differentiation between insured and uninsured is going to narrow" as the Affordable Care Act is implemented and that community health centers are the primary source of care for many patients and also are "excellent places to get medical care."
Mullen thanked the staff at the Norwalk Community Health Center "on behalf of all your patients because I understand what you've been for this community for almost two decades now."