Engineering students create an exam room in a mobile clinic

Changes will allow more patients to get the healthcare they need

The van used to provide mobile healthcare to the community of Athens has just had a facelift.

Several engineering students from the University of Georgia worked to improve the capabilities of the van for their main capstone project. The result is a mobile clinic that now has two pop-up exam tents, new fans and lights, ramp, portable sink, rolling exam carts, Wi-Fi, solar panels, heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The students also achieved the main goal of fitting out the interior to make it a private examination room for patients.

The Augusta University/University of Georgia/Athens Free Clinic Medical Partnership Mobile Clinic has left a significant mark on the Athens community since its founding in 2017.

The Medical Partnership/Athens Free Mobile Clinic van outside the Driftmier Engineering Center. Engineering students were making upgrades to the Ford Transit high-roof van to help medical students and staff of the Augusta University/UGA Medical Partnership as they served communities with the mobile clinic. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

The clinic provides health care to an underinsured population that otherwise might not have access to care. So far, the mobile clinic has administered more than 4,000 COVID-19 vaccines and more than 3,500 tests, and clinic staff are creating a new health center at Clarke Middle School.

In 2019, thanks to a $20,000 grant from the CVS Health Foundation, the mobile clinic was able to upgrade to a larger van, which allowed the clinic to transport more equipment and treat more patients. But the interior was still not used to its potential.

In 2021, Dr. Suzanne Lester, director of the mobile clinic, was tasked with transforming the interior of the van into an exam room.

“It was an empty van, so we used it to haul gear that we put on the outside of the van, but we didn’t use the inside,” Lester said.

Engineering undergraduate Sean Coppola straightens the interior of the Medical Partnership/Athens Free Mobile Clinic van outside the Driftmier Engineering Center. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

After researching companies that could outfit the van, Lester couldn’t see anything that matched the clinic’s needs. After brainstorming with the Medical Partnership administration, the idea of ​​revamping the clinic turned to UGA’s College of Engineering.

“I just thought maybe we could bring some engineering students to MacGyver for us and make it adaptable for various uses,” Lester said.

Lester met with College of Engineering Dean Don Leo and Associate Dean of Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Jaime Camelio and the plan was finalized to make the van renovation a flagship project for the engineering students. Capstone projects are two-semester courses for senior engineering students that provide opportunities to solve real-world engineering design problems.

The engineering students got to work on the van in the fall of 2021 with two student teams: electrical and mechanical.

Hayden Lucas, a fifth-year mechanical engineering student, was part of the electrical team. He was thrilled to take on a project that would not only benefit the healthcare community in Athens, but would enhance his engineering background before entering the professional world.

Engineering students Luis Godoy Orantes and Samuel Benton work on wiring the electrical cabinet of the Medical Partnership/Athens Free Mobile Clinic van outside the Driftmier Engineering Center. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

“While benefiting the partner, these projects allow students to develop the essential skills required of them when entering the job market, including teamwork, creative problem solving and cooperative collaboration, while also giving them the ability to lead an engineering design project from planning to completion,” says Lucas.

Crews began brainstorming and planning in the fall of 2021. Physical work began on the van this spring. The plan was to make the van not only functional, but also environmentally friendly with solar panels.

“I’m very interested in environmental sustainability as it relates to manufacturing and engineering applications,” Lucas said. “I saw this project as a useful opportunity to deepen my knowledge and experience in solar energy generation and storage.”

Engineering students took possession of the van in February and finished in time for the Capstone Design Showcase in April, where they unveiled the newly outfitted clinic.

The new changes will allow the clinic to offer services inside the van such as exams that require privacy.

“This will help tremendously with our clinical outings to partner sites that don’t have private indoor space for us, such as area homeless shelters and mobile home parks as well as other agencies,” said said Lester. “We will be able to offer more services in a more clinical way without losing the quality of care and the basic relationships we have established with our patients and community partners.

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