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Local doctor aims to open mobile clinic

Gates, PeopleOne seeking to help underserved population

Local doctor Zane Gates’ primary care organization is planning to add a mobile clinic that would travel to low-income populations in the area, reviving the kind of service with which Gates began his medical career in Pittsburgh treating homeless people from a van.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” said Gates, co-founder of PeopleOne Health, a subscription-based practice that provides general practitioner, lab, pharmacy, screening and other services for a monthly fee.

He calls the plan for a mobile clinic “a return to my original model.”

PeopleOne is mapping out where the biggest needs are for a service that would bring help to people who often have trouble getting themselves to the doctor, Gates said. Those areas include low-income housing developments, among others.

Gates said people often have difficulties getting to a doctor due to the lack of a vehicle, child care responsibilities, the timing of buses and work schedules.

Many of the people who experience these difficulties are single mothers and the low-income elderly, Gates said.

Discussions have already begun with the Altoona Housing Authority, whose developments include Fairview Hills, which is mainly for families, and two downtown towers, which are mainly for seniors, according to authority Executive Director Cheryl Johns.

Authority member Mitch Cooper said the return of house calls is a good idea.

The mobile clinic could use a recreational-type vehicle and employ a two-person team — a doctor and nurse or a physician assistant and nurse, Gates said.

The clinic would schedule visits on certain days of the week to certain locations, and potential patients at each location would call the PeopleOne office to schedule appointments, he said.

Appointments would be necessary, because a first-come, first-served basis would be “too chaotic,” he believes.

Just like a primary care office, Gates said the practitioners who operate the mobile clinic could perform examinations, order tests and draw blood for the lab.

PeopleOne hasn’t set a date for launching the mobile service, Gates said, noting the plan is “still in its infancy.”

Gates’ first work after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1995 was with Dr. Jim Withers.

Withers is the founder of the Street Medicine Institute, an offshoot of Pittsburgh Mercy’s Operation Safety Net, a street medicine program he established and continues to work with in Pittsburgh, according to the Street Medicine Institute website.

Gates worked with Withers until 1997, then returned to his native Altoona and began working with uninsured people here, also out of a van.

He took the van to Evergreen Manors, where he grew up with a single mother, and to Fairview Hills and the Salvation Army, he said.

Eventually, he moved to a space in the former convent at Sacred Heart parish, then to Altoona Hospital, then to the Blair Medical Building, he said.

His efforts have evolved over the years, transitioning to Medicaid recipients, then business employees and the current membership group, he said.

His intention is to provide the same level of care for everybody, he said, so that “the CEO gets the same treatment as the homeless person. … Everybody is special.”

His said compulsion to help the underprivileged is connected to his upbringing.

“My mother wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.

She died at age 69 in 1993, after a heart attack and stroke.

Gates said she didn’t have the “right” insurance card that would have entitled her to the heart catheterization she needed in Pittsburgh.

She was treated instead with medicine, which turned out not to be enough, he said.

He doesn’t blame the doctors and nurses here, he said.

“I fault the system,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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