It’s hard to miss the bright purple and white RV housed outside of the Caroline County Health Department building in Denton, when not deployed at a satellite location across the county.
Online since April, the new, nearly 35-foot long Mobile Care Unit is the first of its kind in Maryland and brings much-needed telemedicine substance use disorder treatment to residents in Caroline County. Since Caroline lacks a hospital, the unit also serves Talbot and Queen Anne counties via emergency rooms in Easton and Chestertown.
Services on the mobile unit include on-site diagnosis and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for people with opioid use disorder. Eric Weintraub and Christopher Welsh, both associate professors of psychiatry with the University of Maryland School of Medicine, administer the telemedicine for the program.
“The project allows us to service people’s immediate needs,” said Scott LeRoy, health officer for Caroline County. “It provides flexibility and services we didn’t have before.”
Outfitted comfortably and not unlike a regular RV, the unit is intended to make people feel at home. It is staffed by a peer support specialist and a nurse, or nursing assistant, who does assessments. A psychiatrist then sees a person on a television screen inside the unit and can provide Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), such as buprenorphine, if appropriate.
The unit is housed at the Caroline County Health Department in Denton weekdays from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. It also goes out to various satellite locations across the county, including Federalsburg and soon, Greensboro, said LeRoy. Anyone in Caroline, Talbot or Queen Anne’s county who needs help with an opioid use disorder can get help, ideally with an appointment made by calling the health department’s main number, 410-479-1882, or 211 after hours.
“If a person calls ahead, they could see a doctor that same day,” said LeRoy.
Patients should bring identification and an insurance card – medical assistance and self-pay accepted. If you don’t have insurance, the health department can help with that.
And in the first few months of use, LeRoy said they’ve encountered things they didn’t plan for, like needing to keep kids busy when a parent comes for services.
“We’ve taken up collections internally to have crayons there so we can keep children active while a mother can get the care she needs,” LeRoy said.
The MTU workers have seen residents walk upward of a half mile to get services from the unit. LeRoy also recounted a recent incident where someone overdosed, and with the help from a peer specialist, that person was seen on the unit and is currently in treatment.
“Without the RV and those relationships, that wouldn’t have occurred,” said LeRoy.
If a person overdoses and goes to an emergency room, a doctor there provides a service plan and connects the unit with clients. That’s the goal, he said – warm hand offs of overdoses across the region.
“This is a topic that becomes hard to talk about,” said LeRoy. “It’s easy to not be aware if it hasn’t affected you. We’re really promoting this because at some point your friend or family member might need it.”
Funding for the unit was provided by the Health Resources & Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the Maryland Department of Health & Behavioral Health Administration and the Caroline County Health Department.
LeRoy said the idea for a mobile unit first came about in the first few months of his tenure, about 2.5 years ago. He read about a grant to provide mobile treatment and, with about 30 days to apply, went for it, knowing it would expand the impact the health department already has on community.
“Within 30 days we had the application in, we were approved, and we went from there,” he said.
The unit does not carry drugs or money at any time and cannot serve individual residences.
Get more information and see photos online, at carolinehd.org.