Health Wheels Brings Mobile Health Care to A Mobile Industry

Posted on October 17, 2011 by


On July 19, 2011, the men and women working at The Culver Studios (the storied lot where classics like Gone With the Wind and the original King Kong were filmed) were greeted by a revolutionary 33-foot vehicle designed to help them better care for the one thing that matters most: their health.

The vehicle’s arrival marked the very first visit by the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s (the Fund) brand new Health Wheels program.  On October 11th, Film Works staffers had the privilege of visiting the Health Wheels team during one of its bi-weekly visits to The Culver Studios.  Our conclusion: the Health Wheels program is impressive from a logistical and technological standpoint, and a novel approach to delivering comprehensive health care.  Health Wheels offers mobile health care for a mobile industry with a mobile workforce.

Health Wheels’ vehicle is a state-of-the art mobile health center that boasts two relatively spacious exam rooms.   The high-tech vehicle comes loaded with its own water supply for its several sinks and bathroom and two refrigerator units to store samples for transport to the Fund’s lab.  Health Wheels is also equipped with a secure high-speed computer network for on-site administration as well as access to a patient’s complete medical records.  This is an extraordinary accomplishment that allows the mobile clinic to have the same networked capabilities as any of the Fund’s brick and mortar locations.

After just a few short months of operation, the Health Wheels team operates with efficiency that would impress seasoned military commanders.  Health Wheels typically arrives at host studio locations at 10 a.m. and is able to connect to a studio shoreline power source, set up an exterior registration table complete with networked laptop under cover of a retractable awning for shade from the Southern California sun and have the air conditioning cranked to comfortable level within seven minutes.  As of October 2011, Health Wheels conducts weekly visits to 20th Century Fox Studios and CBS Studio Center, bi-weekly visits to The Culver Studios and monthly visits to NBCUniversal Studios and Raleigh Studios.

In a typical five-hour studio visit, Health Wheels can handle 11-13 patient consultations, the longest of which tend to be physicals, which take roughly 30 minutes.  The Health Wheels vehicle has a staff of three:  a driver/registrar,  LVN Luciana Cordero and Dr. Dennis Green, who is a general physician.  Health Wheels offers comprehensive primary care for patients age 13 and above.  Some of the services Health Wheels provides include: physical exams, “welcome to Medicare” visits, well-woman exams, EKG’s, flu shots and other immunizations, blood pressure checks, cholesterol and glucose screenings, vision and hearing checks.

The Health Wheels vehicle was made in the United States by American workers at Iowa-based Dodgen Industries, whose president drove the vehicle cross-country to deliver it to the Fund personally earlier this year.  Built to the Fund’s specifications, the vehicle’s price tag came to $170,000.  To help cover the cost of the mobile clinic, the Fund’s raised money through its annual Heartbeat of Hollywood Golf Classic in June.  To qualify for the funding, the MPTF had to make a specific request to the tournament explaining what the money was going to be used for.  Thanks to the tournament’s generosity, the MPTF was able to bring the Health Wheels program to fruition.

The idea for Health Wheels sprang from a lunch meeting between Fund President Bob Beitcher and Dr. Janice Spinner, the Medical Director of the Fund’s eight Southern California health centers.  Dr. Spinner told Beitcher that her patients’ two biggest concerns were telling doctors about their “nervousness about losing their insurance eligibility” and “inability to see a doctor when they need to because they’re working and don’t want to lose the hours.”

The first concern led to the creation of the Bridge to Health program, which is designed to assist entertainment industry workers who find themselves, for whatever reason, temporarily uninsured.  Bridge to Health provides basic health care services, including basic labs and even necessary x-rays, for one low flat fee of $25 per visit.  Working with a team of  all-volunteer doctors, the Bridge to Health program will be able to handle 7,000 visits annually operating at full capacity.

The second concern led to the creation of the Health Wheels program.  According to Beitcher, the idea was to “take health care to people working in the film & television industry where they actually work.”  During the earliest days of operation, the program encountered some resistance from producers who feared the mobile clinic would lead to lost time as crews took advantage of the service.  The resistance was short-lived, however.  After several weeks of operation, producers noticed that Health Wheels’ presence actually decreased absenteeism and time away from sets for travel to off-site doctor appointments.  Many early critics are now strong advocates of Health Wheels and, in many case, have become Health Wheels patients themselves.

The Producer’s Guild of America (PGA) has taken an active role in promoting the Health Wheels program.  In fact, PGA President Hawk Koch was the person who first made Film Works aware of the program.  “The Fund’s mission, as Mary Pickford once said, is ‘to see a need and fill it’,” Koch said.  “Access to health care of the quality of MPTF without having to leave the set or lot thanks to the Health Wheels is just another example of MPTF fulfilling that mission.”

Health Wheels Project Manager Karen Vock said having “top dog” producers as patients has helped the program.  “Leading by example, production crews who see producers utilizing the program are much more willing to make use of the services themselves, which benefits everyone,” Vock noted.  A healthy producer with a healthy crew will likely lead to a healthier and, perhaps, a more successful film or television production.  It’s possible Health Wheels may help prevent runaway production as producers realize yet another advantage only California has to offer.  Health Wheels is a one-of-a-kind program and it only operates in California.

Several producers have told Vock that having weekly or monthly visits from Health Wheels helps increase morale on many sets, as crews appreciate working at a place that cares so much for their health and well-being.   At the end of the day, Health Wheels is the definition of convenience.  “People working on the lot can literally ride their bicycles into the lobby” said Vock.