Serving Southern Nevada with Nevada Health Centers

At Nevada Health Centers, we’ve got amazing stories of helping those in need. Angela Bakke, KTNV Community Events Coordinator, recently toured our mobile medical unit nicknamed “Big Blue.”  We enjoyed sharing how, with the help of United Way of Southern Nevada, we serve some of the most vulnerable populations in our community, including refugees. 

Imagine being in an unfamiliar place with bizarre customs and not being able to understand the language of those around you. Now imagine coordinating appointments, referrals, and a bus trip when you cannot read any of the maps or directions. Finally, imagine getting a medical appointment and not being able to understand the instructions you are being given or the procedure you are told your child needs. This is a day in the life of many of the refugees we serve.

One family, previously living in a refugee camp in Uganda, arrived in Las Vegas in August 2018. In November, this family reached out to Catholic Charities and was directed to our Mobile Health Unit. Our first encounter involved a newborn evaluation of a 3-day-old infant. The baby’s mother is illiterate in all languages and only fluent in Swahili, and could not even describe in which hospital her son was born. He was having difficulty breastfeeding due to ankylglossia (tongue-tie) and had reflux, which caused him to spit up the breast milk he drank.  He was losing weight and not growing well. Our team, dedicated to his health and growth, went weekly to the family’s door and brought them to Big Blue for care, teaching mom latching techniques for babies with ankylglossia.  Our determined team arranged transportation and treatment with an ear, nose and throat specialist to surgically correct his tongue. This tongue procedure has allowed him to feed without difficulty, and with our medical team’s treatment of his reflux, he is now growing and thriving. Our pharmacy team ensures medication is delivered to the family’s apartment, and we have labeled medication with directions in Swahili to help the family understand how to administer them.

At the same time, while our medical provider was caring for the baby, she noticed that his 3-year-old sister had a mass on her neck. Big Blue’s team learned from the parents that the mass had been present since birth and had slightly increased in size. After diagnosing a condition called a thyroglossal duct cyst, our team discovered it was at risk of becoming malignant – cancerous. Our provider got to work, reaching out to a pediatric surgeon who was training a resident physician who also spoke Swahili. Big Blue’s team took on the role of family advocate, arranging transportation, appointments, and scheduling of the surgery. Our medical provider met with the family on the day of the surgery and assisted them in navigating the pre-admission process and surgery experience in an unfamiliar environment. Without this team effort, an innocent 3-year-old girl may have developed cancer and she and her family would have experienced terrible, avoidable suffering. With the medical team’s diligence, unceasing care and compassion, this child will live a fruitful life.

This is the heart and soul of Nevada Health Centers’ Mobile Medical Unit.  Our team is dedicated to being a voice and advocate for those who would otherwise not receive services, to help the vulnerable navigate a complicated health care system, and provide care in a location where families and youth feel safe.

To learn more about Nevada Health Centers and their Mobile Medical Unit, please visit nevadahealthcenters.org.