Penn State is seriously considering the launch of a mobile medical unit around rural Pennsylvania — and it hopes to soon start a pilot program in Snow Shoe, whose only medical clinic closed last summer.
According to Dr. Michael McShane, an assistant professor of medicine based in State College, the mobile unit will likely focus on preventive health services in the beginning, meaning immunizations, diabetes screens, blood pressure screens and the like. The ultimate goal in Snow Shoe is to eventually expand those services to better fill the hole left by Mountaintop Area Medical Center, which operated there for 49 years before its sudden close in August.
The pilot program is poised to start in the coming weeks, with plans to ramp it up in the summertime.
“We don’t know if this is going to be a solution for Snow Shoe or Centre County, but we think that it might,” McShane said. “And we want to at least try it and get as much community input as we can to really help us build.”
Details are limited at this early point, as the university’s College of Medicine is still communicating about potential operations with local officials and medical partners — such as Lewisburg’s Evangelical Community Hospital. Still, although the mobile medical unit is not designed to fully replace the medical center, Snow Shoe officials welcomed any bit of help.
“I think it’s going to go over very well,” said Bruce Houck, Snow Shoe Borough Council president. “We have no medical service up here at all; we’re kind of isolated. So, hopefully, once people know about it and know that it’s for everyone and anyone and not just Penn State Health people, things will go well.”
Snow Shoe, which is 10 miles from the nearest doctor’s office, has experienced a tough 2 years. In February 2020, an electrical fire forced the closure of the town’s only grocery store in 107-year-old Hall’s Market, in addition to True Value hardware store, Jersey Shore State Bank and Subway. The town’s only pharmacy closed down four months later, and its only medical clinic followed suit 14 months later.
A Dollar General has helped keep the town afloat, providing an outlet for select groceries.
“Just because of everything they’ve gone through … if we’re going to go anywhere, that seems like a really good place to go first,” McShane said.
McShane emphasized that this mobile clinic is not designed to be the answer to all of Snow Shoe’s problems. After all, the mobile unit doesn’t plan to fill prescriptions or offer doctor appointments to sick residents as part of the pilot program. But he hopes this is a start, the first step into relieving some serious community issues.
“We really want to make sure that it’s not like a one-off type of experience, that we’re able to provide some sort of resource to the community they can continue on, beyond whatever the pilot looks like,” he added.
McShane’s team at the Penn State College of Medicine started looking into the idea of a mobile medical unit more than a year ago. A limited health care work force (due to the pandemic) and travel during winter made launching the project earlier a challenge. But, with the mobile unit poised to start in the coming weeks, McShane is confident it will be successful.
At worst, it’s back to the drawing board. At best, it’s the start of better helping rural Pennsylvania — maybe even beyond health care.
“Many communities are struggling with things like economic instability, housing instability,” McShane said. “And so what I think we hope we can do is provide some help, and then expand it. There are other resources that us, as part of the Penn State community, can help provide for those communities.”