Solar Powered Mobile Clinics

The world’s first 100 percent solar- powered mobile health clinic manufactured by Odulair will be unveiled Thursday at Clemson University Joseph F. Sullivan Center on campus. The clinic will provide educational opportunities for Clemson students and increase mobile medical outreach efforts to underserved populations in the Upstate and beyond. The new, one-of-a-kind mobile medical vehicle includes other features that increase its efficiency and versatility in its role as the mobile arm of the health care center.

Dr. Paula Watt, Sullivan Center director, has seen the center go through two previous mobile clinics since her arrival in 1996. She said the benefits of a mobile clinic are twofold: it allows the center to effectively reach underserved communities and demonstrates to Clemson students the challenges in the care of vulnerable patients. This new best-in-class solar powered mobile clinic by Odulair will further enhance the center’s ability to achieve these goals.

“We did immeasurable homework on what we wanted, because this will be a rolling billboard for Clemson University and the outreach it provides,” Watt said. “This vehicle is truly a dream come true for me and our staff.”

The height of mobile medical technology
This mobile clinic by Odulair is one of the most ambitious projects to date for its manufacturer, Odulair, which has built dozens of mobile clinics for other organizations, including American hospitals, Veterans Hospitals, and different African governments. Watt worked closely with Anita Chambers, president and CEO of Odulair, to create a unique, durable design for the mobile clinic.

When parked, the mobile clinic’s slide out nearly doubles its interior space, and it features a television screen that will deliver nutritional and health education to patients.
When parked, the mobile clinic’s slide out nearly doubles its interior space, and it features a television screen that will deliver nutritional and health education to patients.
Image Credit: Clemson University

One of Watt’s primary concerns was the mobile clinic’s off-road capabilities capable of delivering rural healthcare truly anywhere, so Odulair started the project with a six-wheel drive base so the mobile healthcare clinic could tackle almost any terrain. The mobile medical clinic features flexClinicTM technology, so that its walls can move and convert into space for one to five rooms. The mobile clinic can be used as one large patient education room for 20 people or a combination of rooms for lab, reception and exam room services.

The clinic’s interior features flexClinicTM technology, allowing the space to convert to multiple smaller exam rooms.
Image Credit: Clemson University

When parked, the mobile clinic draws 100 percent of its power from a special solar battery system, which eliminates the noise and fumes from a traditional generator and decreases operation and maintenance costs. Chambers said the mobile clinic’s solar feature distinguishes it from other mobile clinics and is the world’s first mobile clinic to incorporate 100 percent solar operations.

“I think we’ve all dreamed of using solar power in this way for a long time, but the technology is finally at a stage where it can be useful,” Chambers said. “Mobile clinics are required to sit in farm fields or other remote locations for eight or more hours a day, so the use of solar power is a huge improvement.”

Empowerment through health education

Watt said the Sullivan Center will use the mobile clinic primarily for rural healthcare in Greenville, Oconee, Pickens and Anderson counties to serve more people than ever before and provide valuable educational experience to Clemson students. She said the student-learning impact alone is huge, with more than 7,500 recorded hours of one-on-one teaching with Clemson nursing and other allied health students last year. A recent successful application supported by the joint medical and nursing boards for South Carolina will allow access to care across the entire state.

While the mobile clinic meets some immediate needs for patients, it also provides breast and cervical cancer screenings and connects them to a regular health care provider. However, the “lifestyle medicine” component the mobile clinic offers is arguably the most powerful tool at its disposal. Watt, Sullivan Center staff and Clemson students educate patients on how to manage physical activity, stress and nutrition, and these messages can now be echoed through the large television screens that provide interactive education tailored to the audience.

The clinic’s interior features FlexClinicTM technology, allowing the space to convert to multiple smaller exam rooms. Image Credit: Clemson University

Access to care is not the only issue this new unit can address. Access to quality food is a key component to improved health outcomes. The new unit is equipped with food storage baskets that allow cooperative demonstration projects to provide fresh fruits and vegetables. When this concept is combined with nutritional counseling, it not only allows the team to talk about the importance of having fresh food in one’s diet, it also allows them to deliver the food on-site.

Jesus Lopez gains information on nutrition and health after a clinic appointment. Image Credit: Clemson University

“We’re equipping people to take care of themselves in the long term,” Watt said. “When people take charge of their own health, the physician’s job is easier and there is a higher likelihood of successful
prevention, treatment and management if and when a major medical need arises.”

Regional and state impact one patient at a time

The mobile health clinic was made possible by state support led by Sen. Thomas Alexander (R-Walhalla). Alexander regularly champions outreach and access to care for underserved populations, and he said the Sullivan Center can become the model for other organizations that wish to pursue the evolution of health care through the empowerment of individuals.

Alexander said support given to the Sullivan Center was based on its track record of service and its longstanding emphasis on the importance of access to care. He thinks mobile medical clinics will continue to provide evidence-based data that proves they are an essential component of effective rural health care in areas of the state that are often underserved.

“It’s critical that the state make it possible for organizations like the Sullivan Center to bring health care to folks who need it most,” Alexander said. 

“The state should support any mission that leads to better health outcomes, and the preventative and educational components provided by mobile clinics have proven time and again to do just that.”

Anita Chambers, Sen. Thomas Alexander and Paula Watt (left to right) celebrate the mobile clinic’s first trial run in Walhalla, South Carolina. Image Credit: Clemson University

Watt said she is ready to take that mission and literally roll with it, preferably up a steep hill or down a muddy path upon which no other mobile unit can reliably tread. Odulair claims the mobile clinic should last well past 2030, and Watt said the Sullivan Center looks forward to making it a second home for years to come. The mobile clinic unveiling event will span three days. All events will take place behind Robert C. Edwards Hall at 201 Epsilon Zeta Drive on campus. Watt, Alexander and Chambers will be joined by Joseph F. Sullivan himself at 9 a.m. Thursday for the unveiling event and reception. Friday, the mobile clinic will be open for tours and flu shots, and a tailgate showcase will allow the public to tour the mobile health clinic Saturday during the Clemson-Pittsburgh football game.

“Our educational mission is to see students truly embody the Clemson “determined spirit” with these experiences,” Watt said. “They will rise to the challenges faced by the individuals this mobile clinic serves and lead the way to improved health care across our state and beyond.”

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