Nearly 20 years of planning and hopes came to fruition last week as Austintown school district held a special ceremony on Friday, Nov. 9, to dedicate the district's new Falcon Mobile Med vehicle. All those involved with obtaining and operating the vehicle were in attendance.
The Falcon Mobile Med is a 39-foot-long mobile medical unit that will be equipped with x-ray equipment and will house two complete exam and treatment rooms.
The vehicle was purchased through a $500,000 federal grant through the Department of Health and Human Services. Only six school districts across the nation got the grant and the Austintown vehicle was the only one in Ohio.
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Cutting the dedication ribbon for the Falcom Mobile Med vehicle are former school treasurer Barb Kliner, former district nurse Jan Gorsuch, Betty Panchik, nurse manager of the school district's medical program, Laura DeJulia, Austintown school district nurse, and Michael Seelman, chief operating officer at Northside Medical Center, who will be helping staff the vehicle during events.
Work to obtain the vehicle actually has its roots back in the 1990s. Then-school district nurse Jan Gorsuch approached the board with the idea of having a school-based health center. That idea became a reality and the Mobile Med vehicle was simply the next step.
Working with a partnership with Northside Hospital, the Austintown Health Center went to work on the vehicle two years ago. One person who played an important part of the design was Northside Hospital nurse manager Betty Panchik.
"I helped design this vehicle," she said. "You have to start with a vision. We played with floor plans and this is what we came up with. I have 17 years with an ambulance service that gave me the ability to design efficient work spaces."
Austintown Superintendent Vince Colaluca said the research that went into the vehicle was astounding. Every little detail had to be considered. He said Northside Hospital helped a lot in the process.
Michael Seelman, chief operating officer at Northside said, "This has been a collaboration over the past two years in how Northside and the schools could work together to care for the kids. Austintown schools did everything they could to get this (vehicle) and we pledge to continue to work with them to provide services."
Colaluca said the vehicle can be used for sporting events, community events, school building health visits, flu shots, and even for the county during emergencies. He said Northside would provide interns to help staff it for those events.
Along with Gorsuch, Barb Kliner, former treasurer for the school district who has returned to assist with grant writing, handled the grant to get the vehicle. She said there are still items to add.
"The vehicle alone cost $350,000," Kliner said. "We still have $150,000 left for the purchase of an x-ray machine and other equipment. We're going slow at first and looking into what we can provide for the kids."
She said the school district and Northside are working to form a committee that will oversee the scheduling of the vehicle and where it will be used. She said the committee is part of the grant requirements.
Gorsuch was just happy to see the idea of a mobile unit come into reality.
"This is awesome," Gorsuch said. "It is like years and years of working towards high-quality, state-of-the-art health services for the families of Austintown has finally happened."
Gorsuch is now employed by Akron Children's Hospital Mahoning Valley, but said she had to show up to see what was once her dream.
The position of district nurse is now on the shoulders of Laura DeJulia, who said, "This is the most awesome thing for the community. It will help cover kids who otherwise wouldn't have access to health care."
Colaluca said the Ohio company that made the Falcon Mobile Med has just received an order for 250 units like it for veterans services. He said the company, Farber Specialty Vehicle in Columbus, has actually created a whole new division for the vehicles.
During the dedication ceremony, Colaluca held a moment of prayer.
"We had an accident (on Thursday) with one of our crossing guards being hit by a vehicle," Colaluca said. "We pray for her speedy recovery."