By Victoria Metcalf
Plumas County residents will soon have access to many free preventative health services by medical-grade vending machines. With the assistance of a grant, Plumas County leads the way in providing additional services to more remote areas of the county.
That was the message presented to the Plumas County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, March 2, as a $33,600 grant from Anthem Blue Cross to the Plumas County Public Health Agency makes vending machines with specific health care items readily available to the public in four locations around the county.
Through project HAVEN (Health Access VEnding Machine Network), residents will have access to many of the same free products available at PCPHA’s health clinic in Quincy, according to Senior Health Education Coordinator James Wilson.
The program is actually two-fold. It puts more products into the hands of those who need them, and helps eliminate obstacles of geographic remoteness, stigma and financial inequities, according to PCPHA Director Andrew Woodruff in a letter to supervisors.
In a mission to “promote and protect individual and community health and well-being,” PCPHA in cooperation with Anthem and Plumas County Behavioral Health Wellness/Resource Centers and Plumas Crisis Intervention and Resource Center, will have HAVEN vending machines at each wellness center in Portola, Greenville and Chester during hours of operation, Woodruff explained. In Quincy, a HAVEN vending machine will be located in the lobby of PCPHA at the courthouse annex.
“This extension of already existing programs will help deepen our commitment to a community of healthy and socially connected people and will show leadership and innovation as the first county in the state to extend health access this way,” Woodruff explained in a letter to supervisors.
How to access items
Local residents can register for a mag strip card that allows access to items within the machine, Wilson explained. Registration can be done at one of the wellness centers or at PCPHA. Demographic information will be collected at the time of registration. HAVEN machines also have software that allows the department more information in understanding the needs of residents in each community.
“Controls will be set on the machine,” according to Wilson. Some items will only be available to each participant every two weeks, and other items once a month, depending on the preventative health care product.
People between the ages of 12 and 17 can also sign up for a mag strip card that allows them access to a restricted list of items, according to Wilson.
Each machine has a touch screen format that also provides a product description
Although preventative health care items will change, predominately each machine will hold tobacco quiet kits, PPE face covering, emergency contraception, pregnancy tests, condoms, personal lubrication, sharps containers, drug deactivation systems, naloxone, lockable pill containers, oral health kits, hygiene kits, personal grooming kits and hand sanitizer.
HAVEN machines will also include HIV tests, syringes, and fentanyl testing strips. These specific items are available to people 18 years and older, according to Wilson.
Each product comes in a white box with only the PCPHA logo on it. Inside along with the product is education materials. Additional materials and referrals will be made available at each office.
Response to recommendations
In response to the 2020 Plumas County Health Assessment, the HAVEN machines help with disparities in rural provision of health care services. “Recent studies have brought to light both the significant gap between the health of rural and urban populations; and some of the differences between rural and urban areas are thought to contribute to the gap,” Wilson explained. “For example, people living in rural areas are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke than people living in urban or suburban areas.”
Because people in the more rural areas of Plumas County often lack transportation, they often face greater barriers in accessing health care. Providing easier-to-access preventative health care measures, people have greater, more convenient health care items.
When supervisors voted unanimously to approve grant funding from Anthem, PCPHA now has approval to move ahead with ordering the machines, according to Wilson. Once the order is placed, the machines will be built and made available to the public within three months. Supervisors also approved a supplemental budget for PCPHA for the amount of the Anthem grant.
The free products offered inside the HAVEN machines are made available to PCPHA by various state and federal programs. Once the grant is finished, PCPHA retains the vending machines and can continue offering the services.