ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Teen Xpress is a mobile school-based healthcare unit that provides medical and mental health services to underserved and uninsured students of low-income middle and high schools Orange County.
Nurse practitioner Eileen Navarro spoke with News 6 about the impact the Teen Xpress bus is having for thousands of families. Navarro said the unit has been getting results for 11- to 18-year-old students in Orange County since 1997.
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“Mobile units are so valuable; I don’t know if people realize how valuable they are,” Navarro said.
She’s been with the Arnold Palmer/Orlando Health program since its inception.
“You know, the teenagers — usually the healthy one — everybody thinks, ‘Oh, they’re healthy,’ but our mobile unit started visiting some schools and realized kids weren’t even getting a physical for a long time, and this was the first time they were encountering a medical professional,” Rita Vento, the program director, said.
Vento said many of the children seen on the bus come from families that struggle with food insecurity and have a hard time making ends meet.
“The biggest challenge is that we’re a very small team. We only have one nurse practitioner, one medical assistant, two cases managers, one mental health counselor and one dietitian, and we saw over 800 students last year,” Vento said.
Seven public schools are part of the program, which, in some cases, has been lifesaving, Vento said.
“We’ve uncovered, you know, heart conditions that would have gone unnoticed. Surgeries that they might need that they would never be able to afford, and nobody would be able to connect them, and so we try our best to connect them with other organizations that are liking to help them as well,” Vento said.
Some of the services provided are annual check-ups, immunizations, vision screens and counseling for mental health.
“We know that with COVID, mental health is a huge need, and we’re seeing that, and kids are coming back to their regular school’s regular environment, and it’s been a huge adjustment, stress, depression,” Navarro said. “I so appreciate, and I love seeing every teenager talks to me because I know that they’re fearful and I’ve been able to hone my skill enough to be able to make them feel comfortable.”
Since the program was launched, about 19,000 students in Orange County have received services at no cost to them.
“They will not get a bill, and we do take students that are underinsured, so even if they have Medicaid, we know sometimes they’re not getting to those doctors for other reasons,” Vento said.