Jul 11, 2022

Interviewer: When you've been out and about, you may have seen it driving or in a parking lot in South Salt Lake, Ogden, Provo, Kearns, Glendale, or maybe some place else in the Salt Lake Valley. And you've always wondered, "What is the Wellness Bus and who can take advantage of this free resource?"

Nancy Ortiz is the mobile health program operations manager, which includes overseeing the University of Utah Wellness Bus. Nancy, let's just start off with what is the Wellness Bus?

Nancy: So the Wellness Bus is a mobile prevention and education clinic that is focused on really making communities healthier. So it's a 39-foot Winnebago that has been outfitted to travel around to different communities and provide free screening services for not only diabetes but other chronic disease.

So when you come to the bus, you can get . . . Everything is no cost. It's free. You can get a simple glucose test, and if your sugar is high, we can also do what's called an A1C test. Additionally, we can test your cholesterol, a whole lipid panel. We test your height, weight, your BMI. We test your waist circumference. And then, additionally, we have a registered dietician that offers free nutritional counseling or coaching on the bus.

Again, all services are free. And we go to the same locations because we want people to come back. We want to help people manage their diabetes or their pre-diabetes, or prevent pre-diabetes or diabetes, or help them with their high blood pressure. So we encourage people to come back and that's why we go to the same locations every week.

Interviewer: And the individuals that come and visit the Wellness Bus, what is the impetus? What inspired them to actually go into this bus, into this situation that they might not be familiar with? What got them there?

Nancy: That's a great question because as we found out, just because you build it or park it there doesn't mean they come inside, right? A lot of people just go walk by out of curiosity, like, "What is that?" But people, they do want to know, and we hope more people want to know. As we say, what are your numbers? What is your glucose? What is your blood pressure? What is your cholesterol? What do those numbers look like? Sometimes they can be a burden.

We don't diagnose on the bus because we don't have medical providers. We work with community health workers. So we say we identify. So the person that does finally make that decision to come into the bus, we do the screenings. And of course, they hope that their health looks pretty good. But in the event that it doesn't look . . . the numbers aren't ideal, we can help them find a provider if they don't have one.

And studies have shown that lots of times, people will not seek care because of the cost. They don't want to burden their family. Money is already tight. So we have services available where we can help people get either free or low-cost medical care. So we are there trying to help the person find affordable resources.

Interviewer: That would be a scary thing, finding out that you have a health condition, and definitely a reason why you just walk on by as opposed to finding out.

Nancy: Exactly.

Interviewer: So it's great that you're connecting people with community to resources that can help in their situation. Tell me about somebody. Walk me through somebody comes in, they find out, "I've got a high fasting glucose. I might have diabetes." You connect them with some resources. What's the journey like after that point?

Nancy: Right. Again, they've gotten this bad news, but we are there to encourage and say, "Through education and lifestyle changes," which is why we have a registered dietician on the bus, "you can really manage it."

We're here to educate you on ways to reduce your sugar levels or you're high cholesterol levels. And we highly encourage you to see a medical provider because it could be that you they need to be on other medication or insulin.

And once you've met with the provider, we encourage you to come back to the bus. We are here, again, for support. And a lot of times, Scot, it's just the social support.

We have an individual. He had diabetes when he came onboard. He comes to the bus pretty much every week. And his glucose levels are improving because I think that social interaction. He knows the people on the bus, like, "Hey, Alex. Hi, Maria. Hi, Veka." That really helps people, I think, pay attention more to their health and make them feel like somebody cares.

We try to make people feel comfortable. We try to break down on the bus as many barriers as possible.

People can come on the bus and remain anonymous if they want. We ask them general information, name, address, a little bit of medical history, but you don't have to fill it out. If people don't want to give their information, and some don't for fear that it's going to come back to them in some bad ways, it's like, "You don't have to give your real name. You don't have to give your address." We don't want that to be a barrier.

We have Spanish speakers on board, so we have that language, but we have an interpretation service that we use that we have access to 240 languages and dialects. We can get someone that speaks their language within a minute on the phone. So we don't want that to be a barrier.

We travel to communities that have high rates of diabetes and chronic disease, trying to make it easier for people to come to the bus. So just trying to break down those barriers of . . .

You asked me previously why someone would or wouldn't come on to the bus. We're just trying to get as close to them as we can and say, "Just please come on board. Let's just have a conversation. Let's look at your blood. It's just a finger prick. We're not doing blood draws out of the arm. It's just a simple prick on the finger."

So it's just about letting you know where you are, again, on the spectrum of good health versus ill health, and that's what we want people to know. We are not there to shame anybody. So, again, we want people to feel comfortable that we're not here to judge you on your weight or how you eat.

Interviewer: It's no reflection of a personal shortcoming at all.

Nancy: It's not. It part, lots of times, it's about education.

Interviewer: What would you say to somebody that might see the Wellness Bus parked some place and they're thinking about coming in but they're not sure?

Nancy: Don't even give it a second thought. Just open the door and come on in. Our staff is so friendly. They're going to make you feel like you're just sitting in your living room while you're getting your finger poked.

I mean, please, don't hesitate to come in. Just find out what your health looks like. Just get a baseline. And if it needs improvement, we can help you make those improvements. And if the numbers look good, that's even better. You can walk out of there feeling, "Hey, I'm even healthier than I thought I was," or, "There are little improvements that I need to make," or, "Wow, I do need to see a doctor or a provider at this point."

But again, we are there to help you on this journey not just today and say, "Oh, this is what your numbers look like," but, "Hey, come back. We are here every week whatever location we're at. We will help you on this journey to better health." So please, hop on board.

For Patients