Public officials and university leadership cut a ribbon with big scissors to launch a new mobile health van

Elected Officials, Community Members Turn Out to Help Launch Columbia’s New Mobile Health Clinic

The Columbia University College of Dental Medicine’s mobile dentistry program is poised to double its capacity to deliver health screenings and low-cost dental care to residents of Northern Manhattan and the Bronx with the introduction of a new mobile health clinic, which has been generously funded by a $500,000 grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation. 

This van will boost CDM’s capacity to meet clients in their communities and to conduct oral health screenings and primary care exams. Speaking at the new van’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Dr. Katrina Armstrong, chief executive officer of the Columbia University Irving Medical Center and dean of the faculties of health sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said that the new van represents the university’s ongoing commitment to serving vulnerable communities. “To care for a patient or a community, you can’t separate oral health and heart health and metabolic health,” she said. “You just think, as a mom, ‘how can I take care of my kids or how do I help my parents get access to the healthcare that they need?’”

Dentist shows community member features of the mobile health clinic

Dr. Biana Roykh points out some of the new van's features for Assemblyman Al Taylor

The new mobile clinic is staffed by faculty and students at Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Using an integrated model for both primary medicine and oral health that allows patients to receive comprehensive care, the new van features both a dental chair and a medical examination table. The clinic is equipped to offer a new level of interdisciplinary preventive care, including vaccinations, and is outfitted with dental instruments that capture biometric information to improve clinical care through the college’s Center for Precision Dental Medicine.

This new model will enable CDM to create additional connections with community programs and centers, allowing the dental school to help more individuals in the community gain access to care and overall health education. It will also further enhance the service-learning experience for students, allowing them to meet patients where patients live, work, and go to school. “This mobile van symbolizes our collective commitment to the principle of advancing health equity,” said Dennis Johnson, Cabrini Health Foundation's managing director for Strategy and evaluation, also speaking at the ribbon cutting.

The Honorable Adriano Espaillat, U.S. representative for the 13th congressional district, pledged continuing support for CUMC’s outreach initiatives. “The medical school and dental school are important to this community,” he said.

Soomin Park, a third-year student at CDM and co-president of the student-run Columbia Harlem Homeless Medical Partnership, which treats the under-documented, uninsured, and low-income populations of West Harlem, says she is excited that this new van will create the potential to treat more community members. “There are always more patients on the waiting list than we can treat,” she said. Park said that the new van will help to reduce the number of people waiting to be seen. 

Like the current mobile clinic, which was funded by grant from Delta Dental, the new van will travel to neighborhood schools, Head Start programs, daycare centers, foster care facilities, schools, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and health clinics in Harlem, Inwood, Washington Heights, and the South Bronx to provide onsite oral health care and preventive health services to children and seniors through Columbia’s DentCare program. And, like the current clinic, the new, bright blue bus, emblazoned with photos of smiling children and senior citizens, reflects CDM’s commitment to improve access to oral health and primary medicine in the communities it serves.

Dr. Amy Herbert, CDM’s Director of Community Engagement and Partnerships notes, “CDM is currently partnered with various city schools, Head Start programs, and senior centers which facilitates access for communities who traditionally experience barriers to care.  The integrated dental/medical van will address various needs of the community simultaneously.”