Baylor’s SmartPod unveiled in Harris County

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire world, but it is more important than ever to care for communities closer to home.

In partnership with Harris County Precinct 2, Baylor Global Health is utilizing its portable SmartPods to offer care to local neighborhoods that not only have limited access to healthcare, but are also affected by natural disasters. 

“There are parts of Harris County that need alternative healthcare infrastructure solutions, particularly because of our tendency toward natural disasters like hurricanes,” said Dr. Sharmila Anandasabapathy, the director of Baylor Global Health and professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “Precinct 2 was an area that needed it, and the commissioner had a vision to make it happen.”

In early October, Baylor and Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia revealed the nation’s first portable and adjustable SmartPod clinic at the North East Community Center in the Aldine area. Called Access2Health by the county, the SmartPods will offer COVID-19 testing and care for additional health concerns, such as treatments for infectious diseases, routine vaccinations, primary care and women’s health. 

Engineered by NASA, Anandasabapathy explains that the SmartPods are designed with infection control surfaces and rooms that provide respiratory isolation so that patients can be safely treated for airborne infections like COVID-19 and tuberculosis.

“Our clinics are designed so that they can handle regular community-based care, patients with diabetes, heart disease and those suspected of having diseases like COVID-19,” Anandasabapathy said. “The negative pressure isolation room is capable of removing air from the room, which allows us to handle the patient safely.”

Also designed to be mobile, the SmartPods can be transported to areas that are heavily affected by natural disasters like hurricanes or flooding.

First developed by Baylor Global Health to address the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the purpose of the Access2Health SmartPods are to provide community-based care in areas that have limited access to healthcare.  

“This is an example of something that is global going local – we designed this for under sourced areas in other countries, but we never thought there would be applications here in Harris County,” Anandasabapathy said.

So far, there are plans for three SmartPods in Harris County. In addition to the Aldine area, others will be deployed in Pasadena and Channelview.

“We started the process of acquiring the Smart Pod Access2Health long before COVID-19, so it wasn’t a health emergency that was the catalyst. It has been my mission since day one to provide expanded access to care in Harris County Precinct 2,” Garcia said. “We know that this pandemic will end at some point, but lack of access to care will remain. We can use it to increase COVID-19 testing for now, and then we can transform it do preventative care.”

By Kaylee Dusang