A mobile clinic run by the nonprofit TrueCare rolled into North County to provide free medical and dental care, and its first stop was Brother Benno’s Center in Oceanside to help homeless people facing health challenges.
“This is so exciting,” Brother Benno Foundation Community Outreach Coordinator Dennis Pinnick said as he stood outside the mobile clinic Monday. “This is something our founder Harold Cutler has wanted for many years.”
Brother Benno’s began as a soup kitchen in the early 1980s and has been at 3260 Production Ave since 1991. in a building once owned by Cutler, who died in 2017. It provides food, clothing, a recovery program and other services to homeless people, but had not offered medical care until the mobile clinic debuted at the site on Oct. 31.
Inside the 36-foot-long vehicle, Dr. Jorge Otañez and two medical assistants examined several patients, drawing blood, prescribing medications and directing people to labs if they needed X-rays or additional care.
“To me, it’s the same as seeing a patient in a clinic,” he said of the vehicle, which includes an exam room and equipment for exams, women’s health, behavioral health, chiropractic and immunizations. “It has everything I need.”
Otañez said more than half of the patients he sees with Brother Beno have some kind of skin problem, such as a fungal or bacterial infection, which he says is not surprising.
“A lot of the patients don’t get to shower every day,” he said. “Many of them also have foot problems because they don’t always have the right shoes and socks. There are times when I want to do more, like I wish I had some socks here to give them. But we have to work with other people to get them what they need. It’s a team effort.”
Otañez said he treats some patients who haven’t seen a doctor in three or four years and may not know what ailments they have.
The new mobile medical clinic serves about 12 to 15 people during each four-hour visit and cost about $600,000, which was funded through donations and money from the American Rescue Plan Act, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
TrueCare also has a mobile dental clinic that serves about five people per visit. The two vehicles visit Brother Beno every Monday.
Rick Pruitt, 74, was one of the patients at the medical clinic this week.
“They helped me quite a bit,” he said. “They cleared up an infection with antibiotics.”
Pruitt, who has a rare motor neuron disease called Kennedy’s disease, uses an electric scooter to get around and lives in a mobile home. He said he is a patient of Scripps Health, but it is difficult to get to his doctor’s office.
Miguel Avila, 69, was also treated by Otañez on Monday. Through an interpreter, he said he was given medication for a swollen leg and referred to a clinic.
Another patient, who did not want to be named, called the clinic extremely helpful and said he had blood drawn in the car to diagnose a medical condition.
Pinnick said the clinic would be especially helpful for homeless people who lack transportation and could provide ongoing care for people who haven’t seen a doctor in years.
“What we’re doing is building trust among our population,” he said. “They’ll see that it’s regular and that people are committed to helping them.”
Irene Torres, TrueCare’s senior director of operations, said the mobile clinic is scheduled to visit a senior center in Perris on Tuesday and has been at an event at MiraCosta College and other locations since its launch.
“This was the population with the greatest need that we found,” she said of why TrueCare scheduled weekly visits with Brother Benno.
The new mobile service is a return to its roots for TrueCare, which began as a mobile clinic in 1971. It has 19 health centers and WIC offices in Carlsbad, Encinitas, Escondido, Oceanside, Perris, Ramona, San Marcos and Valley Center. Earlier this year, she launched a health center at Casa de Amparo in San Marcos.
TrueCare plans to launch two more mobile clinics in the near future and expects to be able to reach an additional 3,500 people annually through the expanded fleet.