Elliot Handler
Elliot Handler, a UCI summer research student, roughhouses with Benjamin Oezkan, 6, during the UCI mobile health clinic visitation at a local motel. Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications

UC Irvine’s Mobile Medicine unit hit the road nearly six years ago, delivering healthcare and specialized geriatric services to senior citizens.

Along the way, the clinic on wheels added regular stops at El Sol Elementary School in Santa Ana and the St. Francis Home for seniors. It provides a venue for UCI to hold blood drives and serve the community at health fairs across Orange County.

The clinic has logged a lot of miles, says Nancy Downey-Hurtado, assistant director of ambulatory services at UC Irvine Medical Center, in an effort to reach those with limited access to medical care.

Downey-Hurtado oversees the Family Health Centers in Santa Ana and Anaheim as well as the Mobile Medicine Unit, which now brings healthcare to the homeless.

In August, the clinic saw five pregnant women, including two who were closing in on their due dates, among the dozens it assisted during monthly visits to a Costa Mesa motel. The county had moved many of those homeless people to the motel from a local park or emergency shelter, Downey-Hurtado said.

The effort to provide shelter and healthcare is a collaboration among UCI staff, Kaiser Permanente doctors, the county and the Orange County Rescue Mission.

Tens of thousands of people have received health services at the 39-foot-long doctor’s office on wheels since 2002. It houses two full exam rooms and a lift for wheelchair access. Salvador Ureno and Socorro Gutierrez drive the van and provide support services while volunteer doctors, nurses and medical technicians tend to patients.

Downey-Hurtado’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. She is among 30 finalists in NurseWeek’s 2008 California Excellence Awards and is being recognized for her work in underserved communities.

“I’m touched and humbled by it,” she said. “But there are many talented people working on these community issues. I’m just doing my part on something I believe passionately about.

“I feel blessed that the university supports these efforts,” she said.

The nurses were recognized at a Sept. 26 ceremony at the Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa.