Wheel and Heal: Medical Bus Wins Award for Church Innovation

After hospitals closed in rural Tennessee, church volunteers stepped in to provide basic care, cut hair, and pull teeth.

With six trucks and some volunteers, a church in Tennessee is helping to fill a gap in rural health care. The ministry, Doing Unto Others Mobile Mission, or DUO, thinks other churches can do the same.

DUO is one of four newly announced winners of grants from church insurer Brotherhood Mutual Insurance, which wants to reward innovative church programs that could be replicated across the country. Other winners include a mentoring program with local business leaders and teens, an afterschool tutoring program, and a homeless ministry.

In about two hours with DUO’s fleet, a person in rural Tennessee can see a doctor, pharmacist, optometrist, and dentist, and even get a haircut. The ministry started in 2021 and only operates monthly a few months a year, but it has saved the US health system $3.8 million dollars and 42 emergency room visits, according DUO’s estimates using the Mobile Health Map evaluation from Harvard Medical School.

Jamestown, Tennessee—a city of 1,900 located in Upper Cumberland—needed DUO’s support after losing its only hospital in 2019 due to financial constraints. Emergency services had to take local patients to another hospital nearly an hour away. Another hospital in Cumberland closed in 2020.

Tennessee has the highest closure rate of rural hospitals per capita of any state.

Samuel LeFave, a Christian and recent Tennessee Tech biochemistry graduate, was interested in medical school when he got to know a family in Jamestown and heard about the desperate state of rural health care. His pastor at Life Church in Cookeville, Tennessee, an hour from Jamestown, asked him about setting up a medical program, since LeFave had worked with a free clinic as an undergraduate. LeFave, then 21 years …

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