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KIRBYVILLE — When Shelly Huffman stepped onto a 40-foot bus on Monday afternoon, she wasn’t looking for public transportation. She needed a checkup.
The 52-year-old had recently been diagnosed with depression and high blood pressure, which runs in her family. Without health insurance, Huffman could no longer afford to see a doctor to help manage her hypertension.
This mobile medical unit, parked behind a community center in the rural East Texas town of Kirbyville, had become a lifesaver.
“I like the people here, and it’s affordable care,” Huffman said. Her white T-shirt read “I love pickup trucks and rock and roll.”
Inside the mobile bus — equipped with medical supplies such as gloves, tourniquets and blood pressure monitors — a nurse practitioner named Anita Drake greeted Huffman. Between the standard questions about Huffman’s physical and mental health, Drake — or “Miss Anita” as her patients and coworkers fondly call her — and Huffman shared jokes and laughs.
Anita Drake, a nurse practitioner, conducts an appointment with Shelly Huffman at a mobile health clinic in Kirbyville on Oct. 17.
Callaghan O’Hare for The Texas Tribune
Mobile health units like this one, operated by the TAN Healthcare clinic, have emerged as an effective method to provide lifesaving care to hard-to-reach patients. With the highest uninsured rate in the nation — more than double the national average — Texas is home to thousands of underserved, economically disadvantaged patients in need of medical care. And with an increasing number of rural hospitals closing down, access to care is limited in Texas’ 172 rural counties.
As a federally qualified health center, TAN Healthcare receives federal funding and serves an underserved population. The clinic has brick-and-mortar sites in Beaumont and Orange and operates the mobile bus unit three days a week, providing preventive health care to outlying areas of East Texas, many of which have no hospital of their own.
At TAN, uninsured patients like Huffman pay for their health care according to a sliding scale based on their family’s income level and size. Huffman pays $25 for each visit, a nominal fee compared …….