Unlike the travelers who stop for a minute or two and then continue on the Sterling Highway, Cooper Landing’s newest Winnebago is parked for the long-haul.
The 1996 34-foot vehicle was designed to be a mobile health clinic, not a home on the road.
“It’s custom made,” said Connie Cates, a project manager at Peninsula Community Health Services.
The Winnebago has two exam rooms, phone hook-ups and data hook-ups. It’s equipped for a wide-variety of basic health services.
And as of last Friday, the health services organization is putting it to use for the purpose it was created for.
“PCHS has worked hard with the Cooper Landing Health Clinic Board of Directors to provide medical care to the community of Cooper Landing,” Cates said.
The board is an eight-member group from Cooper Landing that has been working on the clinic project locally.
For now, the clinic can be accessed by a street that runs adjaicent to and behind Wildman’s on the Sterling Highway. The clinic is open Fridays and Saturdays, with same-day appointments available, Cates said.
The organization hopes to keep it open all winter, too.
Cates said the clinic can provide a variety of services including primary care for families, physical exams, minor surgical procedures, testing and screening, and immunizations. The clinic will be staffed by a nurse practitioner and registered nurse.
The clinic project as a partnership between PCHS and Cooper Landing is almost 3 years in the making, Cates said.
An active community member and member of the Cooper Landing Board of Directors — Carrie Williams — first approached the organization about the community’s need for medical care.
The local emergency services organization was getting calls about fish hooks stuck in anglers, campfire burns, and other summer ailments, Cates said. The community was also concerned about the distance residents needed to travel to get regular medical care.
PCHS heard the call and began working on a clinic with the community.
Cates knew that there was a mobile clinic that was once used by a community health center somewhere in Alaska. So she picked up the phone and started calling around.
“I tracked it down,” she said.
The clinic was sitting unused in Sitka.
Cates arranged for PCHS to buy the clinic and bring it north; Williams and her husband, John, agreed to house the clinic on their property.
“To get it from Sitka to Anchorage we had to put it on a barge,” Cates said.
That could be costly, but a local shipping company agreed to help.
“Lynden Transport donated half of the transportation cost,” Cates said.
The clinic was barged from Sitka to Haines, and made the rest of the journey by road, Cates said.
Before deploying the clinic, PCHS did some regular maintenance to get it ready. That meant cleaning and polishing to make it shine, Cates said.
Now it’s ready for visitors, no matter who they are.
“It provides resources to allow a patient to be seen regardless of ability to pay,” Cates said.
That open door policy is largely because of the clinic’s status as a federally-qualified community health center. There’s a sliding discount scale based on household size and income criteria, and the clinic accepts all types of insurance, she said.
That policy applies to PCHS facilities in the Kenai-Soldotna area, too.
This is the organization’s first clinic outside the central Peninsula’s urban area, though here in-town they provide a wide-range of services: dental, medical and behavioral health care and more.