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Growing Care Van® Program Helps Increase Access to Health Care

Growing Care Van Program Helps Increase Access to Health Care

As the fifth largest state by square miles, New Mexico is home to a population spread over a vast area. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Services, more than 686,000 people live in rural New Mexico. Living in rural areas often comes with greater health disparities. Rural Americans have an increased risk for developing heart disease, chronic lower respiratory disease and other conditions.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) seeks innovative solutions that can help address the public health challenges facing our state. To deliver health care to more people living throughout New Mexico’s 121,356 square miles, BCBSNM expanded its Care Van program, an initiative that provides mobile health clinics to help improve access to preventive care in New Mexico, especially in underserved rural areas. BCBSNM introduced the first Care Van in 2006 and launched a second Care Van in 2018.

The Care Van program contracts with independent health care providers. These providers come with diverse specialties, including vision and dental, and they administer many types of exams and evaluations, such as general checkups, immunizations and diabetes screenings. All services are provided to community members at no charge.

After BCBSNM added a second Care Van, the number of contracted providers with the program more than doubled. In 2018, providers in BCBSNM's Care Vans administered more than 6,700 medical services and screenings, about a 67% increase from the previous year when the program operated a single Care Van.

With both Care Vans on the road, one Care Van can serve people in central New Mexico, while the other Care Van can see patients hundreds of miles away in less populated areas of the state.

The expanded program has been able to reach additional rural and tribal areas in New Mexico. For example, the Care Van served people in Counselor, a small, rural community in Sandoval County. The Care Van also worked with First Nations Community Healthsource to provide screenings and health education in Gallup.

“When the Care Van goes to a senior center, a school or a community center, several community partners come together to offer services to everyone who attends,” said Eugene Sun, M.D., vice president and chief medical officer at BCBSNM. “It’s about all citizens of the state who need access.”

Among the community partners who work with the Care Van program is Southern New Mexico Diabetes Outreach (SNMDO), an organization focused on diabetes education, prevention and management. With the Care Van, SNMDO provides cholesterol and blood glucose screenings, blood pressure testing, and body mass index (BMI) measurements.

“We do screen almost 1,000 people a year, and we go to about 30 different locations,” said June Donohue, SNMDO executive director. “About half of those are in the Care Van.”

The New Mexico Hispanic Medical Association (NMHMA) has also used the Care Van to provide services, including Alzheimer’s screenings and well-child checks, at their annual Feria de Salud: A Day of Free Healthcare event.

“We have served over 10,000 medically uninsured and underserved people with the health fair over the years. Most of these people are not seeking health care because of cost or lack of insurance,” said Dr. Anthony Vigil, a family practitioner and a board member of the NMHMA. “The Care Van is crucial for us.”

Many factors in people’s lives can prevent them from getting health care. The Care Van helps bridge these gaps by reaching people who lack access to care. With this innovative program, BCBSNM is continuing to grow partnerships in our communities to help New Mexicans lead healthier lives.