Aug. 17, 2021 — Grant Harrell, M.D., knows there’s more to medicine than prescribing medication; it’s a relationship built on establishing trust and providing the tools and information people need to navigate their health.
“It’s exciting to help people teach others, to set goals and change their daily habits to promote better health,” says Harrell, an assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine Department of Community Health and Family Medicine. “We can equip people to help their own communities take charge of their health.”
Harrell is just one of 50 faculty in the department of community health and family medicine who have dedicated their careers to fulfilling this mission in the Gainesville community. The department has a long history of providing primary care services in Alachua County, with a special focus on underserved populations who live east of Main Street and beyond Waldo Road. With two primary care practices located in east Gainesville (Family Medicine – Main and Family Medicine – Eastside), along with the student-run Equal Access Clinic Network and the UF Mobile Outreach Clinic, the department is well-suited to help improve the health and well-being of people in this area.
David B. Feller, M.D., interim chair of the department of community health and family medicine, understands the community’s needs. As the faculty adviser for the Equal Access Clinic since 1994, he has guided medical and health professions student volunteers as they provide care for the medically underserved in Alachua County. He also has been involved in a number of community outreach programs in east Gainesville, which have been paused due to the pandemic but aim to resume soon.
“The name of our department is community health,” Feller says. “We have an obligation to engage with our community, to understand the needs and to work to meet them.”
Feller says UF Health and the College of Medicine will continue to pursue opportunities to expand services for the east side of the county.
One way the department has evolved to meet the needs of the community has been ensuring the UF Mobile Outreach Clinic remained a presence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal of the clinic is to bring health care to those who can’t easily access traditional medical services in Alachua County due to finances, transitioning between insurance carriers or transportation challenges.
As the medical director of the Mobile Outreach Clinic, Harrell has led efforts to bring COVID-19 vaccines to community locations, including churches, and involve community leaders, like pastors, in the initiative.
“The environment at our vaccination events is incredible,” Harrell says. “It’s more like a celebration. Health care delivery works better when you engage the community to advocate for their own care.”
Engaging community members, educating residents and cultivating future health care workers is an important part of the mobile clinic’s mission, Harrell says.
“We want to expand the role of community health workers,” he says, “to train members of the communities we serve to be health educators and workers who can then do things like home-based visits and lead health initiatives for their own neighborhoods.”