High-Tech Hospitals On Wheels Roll Into Border Communities

By Maria Carmen Villarreal and Enriqueta Cisneros

The hot, dusty parking lot of a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Laredo is an unlikely place to find inspirational stories of life change. In the minority-populated neighborhoods along the Texas-Mexico border, called “Colonias,” many families live in extreme poverty without running water, sewer systems or electricity. But for Nidia Pecina, a mother of three in the Colonias, receiving healthcare and case management services from BCFS Health and Human Services in the parking lot of her local community center has made all the difference in the world for her future, her health, and the wellbeing of her entire family.

BCFS’ Healthy Start Laredo program operates a state-of-the-art mobile medical unit that travels to some of the poorest Colonias along the border to bring life-saving healthcare services, checkups, prenatal care and case management to families in need.

In the case of Nidia Pecina — who lived without medical insurance or access to transportation — it was impossible to visit local doctors or clinics for medical care. So when she became pregnant she would have done what most mothers do in the Colonias — go without prenatal care throughout her pregnancy, which can have devastating effects for mothers and babies. Sadly, high infant mortality rates and low-birth weight in newborns is prevalent in the Colonias because so many mothers are cut off from adequate healthcare and social services.

But Nidia frequented the BCFS mobile medical unit in the parking lot of her neighborhood’s community center to receive prenatal care during her last two pregnancies. Consequently, she gave birth to two healthy baby girls.

The BCFS mobile medical unit is like a hospital-on-wheels that looks like a large steel bus from the outside. Inside, it includes all the equipment necessary to provide high quality prenatal care, like sophisticated non-fetal stress equipment and an ultrasound machine. In an emergency situation, it’s even equipped to deliver a baby if the mother goes into labor and can’t make it to a local hospital.

“I feel so fortunate to have come to BCFS within my first trimester for two of my baby girls,” says Nidia. “I was seen by a qualified provider even without insurance, and my girls were born full-term and healthy. Without coming to BCFS, I really don’t know how I would have received help, since I’m an hour away from the nearest doctor, I have no car, and I don’t have much money. I tell all the women in the neighborhood about what they’ve done for me.”

After Nidia delivered her baby girls, she transitioned to become an interconceptional client and is receiving case management services. In addition to serving expectant mothers, BCFS Healthy Start also serves women raising a child under two years old. BCFS case managers work closely with families to address their social, financial, educational, housing, parenting and employment needs.

Today, Nidia attends BCFS’ parenting classes that she says help her better care for her children. Her BCFS case manager also helped her submit the necessary documents and become a US resident. She’s currently taking English classes with plans to pursue higher education, which she says is the key to providing a stable, comfortable future for her family.

Did you know?

BCFS’ mobile medical unit can also be deployed by city, state or federal government entities to provide medical care in the aftermath of a disaster, like a hurricane or tornado. The high-tech asset also serves as a rehabilitation unit for firefighters and first-responders in an emergency, and is equipped to evacuate facilities like hospitals or nursing homes.

For more information on BCFs’ emergency management and response work, visit BCFSEMD.org.