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California Impact

Professor Receives Grant to Improve Healthcare Access for Hispanic and Indigenous Women

Nine people stand, some wearing masks, smile in front of Cal Poly's Mobile Health Unit

Cal Poly Kinesiology and Public Health Department Professor Suzanne Phelan recently received $30,000 in grant funding from the Santa Barbara Foundation to improve the Cal Poly Mobile Health Clinic’s services for women in northern Santa Barbara County. 

The Mobile Health Clinic, launched in 2018, offers free medical and preventive healthcare services for uninsured women and serves about 250 patients per year, including ongoing care and follow-up visits. Spanish is the most prevalent language among the clinic’s patients, but around 20% speak the Mixtec or Zapotec Indigenous languages, which are not often translated in medical forms and literature. 


Phelan and Mobile Health Clinic staff aim to change that. Clinic staff includes SLO NOOR Foundation clinicians and Cal Poly students, who serve as phlebotomists, health advocates, interpreters and medical assistants, and perform other support duties.


The grant funding is specifically targeted toward making healthcare literature — such as intake forms, health history surveys and other materials — accessible to uninsured Hispanic and Indigenous women who were never taught to read or write effectively.

These communication tools aren’t limited to translating forms into text, Phelan said. A client may be able to access a digital health history form that is read aloud via audio playback and accompanied by images that represent the content of the questions being asked. 

The Mobile Health Unit Clinic
Cal Poly’s Mobile Health Clinic

Since the populations that the Mobile Health Clinic serve often struggle with trust of the medical community, research into what kinds of informational images instill trust and understanding among patients is also being performed in order to make these tools as successful as possible. Phelan plans to distribute these materials to other health care community partners serving these patients.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of working with our women's mobile health program is witnessing the cultural exchange between our staff and patient populations,” she said. “It's wonderful to hear expressions of gratitude from patients receiving care sometimes for the first time in their lives. Our staff and students are incredible, speaking multiple languages and managing several competing tasks sometimes simultaneously during peak hours of the clinic.” 

In addition to this recent grant, the Mobile Health Clinic has also received funding and support from the Santa Barbara Foundation, the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, and donations from Dignity Health and other private donors.  

The clinic is made possible by a partnership between Cal Poly, the SLO NOOR Foundation, and Marian Regional Medical Center. The NOOR Foundation provides free medical care to the uninsured, and Marian Medical Center’s medical residents rotate on the Mobile Health Clinic as part of their underserved rotation. Marian’s labs also process many of the Mobile Health Clinic’s patient biospecimens. 

To learn more about the grant funding and the services offered by the Mobile Health Unit, visit the Cal Poly Corporate Engagement and Innovation website.


To find clinic hours, locations and to make an appointment, visit the Center for Health Research's website.

Lead Photo: From left to right are Medical Director Vicki Charbonneau, nurse practitioner; Phlebotomist Rubi Solano, CPT-1; Director of Operations Suzanne Phelan, Ph.D.; kinesiology major Elena Kraemer, a Cal Poly Health Ambassador; Mobile Health Unit Coordinator Cristina Macedo, MSW; Dignity Health Resident Anthony Reyes, MD; public health major Nathalie Zamora, a Cal Poly Health Ambassador; public health major Isabella Araoz, a Cal Poly Health Ambassador; and Mixtec Interpreter Paola Ligario.

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