A new "SmartWheels" van made its debut in New Rochelle on Tuesday at the city's Planned Parenthood center at 247 North Ave.
The 27-foot long converted Winnebago, paid for by donations to Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic (PPHP), is larger and better equipped for its purpose than its 18-year-old predecessor.
The new van, which will travel to women's shelters, health fairs, and schools in four counties including Westchester, offers a separate room for a clinician to perform HIV tests, urine-based pregnancy tests and urine-based tests for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, which are the two most common STDs according to Carol Lemus, the Director of Education and Training for PPHP.
"Now, instead of pulling closed a curtain, we can shut the door, which is important because we promise privacy and confidentiality," said Lemus. "We do HIV testing, STD testing and pregnancy testing, plus emergency contraceptives, and oral contraceptives without a table visit, which means a pelvic exam." Van visits also give patients an opportunity to ask questions about sexual health and to pick up free condoms.
Another feature of the new SmartWheels van is its brand new computer, which is wired into Planned Parenthood's main system. This means that a patient's records are accessible from the van and should a follow-up examination be recommended, the clinician can set up the patient's appointment at the most convenient clinic right from the van.
"It's basically a health center on wheels," said Lemus, who said insurance is accepted in the van. For those who are uninsured, Planned Parenthood operates on a sliding scale of fees, so, according to Lemus, for patients without means to pay, Planned Parenthood will help fill out paperwork for a state program called Family Planning Benefits Program (FPBP), which assumes "presumptive eligibility." In circumstances where a patient may perhaps be undocumented and ineligible for FPBP, "the sliding scale kicks in and can slide to zero," said Lemus.
Just before cutting the ribbon, Jill Scheuer, Chair of the Board of Directors, explained, "The van enables us to reach those who need us most: those who would not walk into one of our health centers, call us on the phone or even visit one of our websites."
At the ribbon cutting, New Rochelle
Mayor Bramson reiterated his longstanding support of Planned Parenthood's mission and was followed by a grateful Reina Schiffrin, CEO of PPHP.
PPHP has served the community for 80 years and the SmartWheels vans travel throughout four counties: Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Suffolk.