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South Salt Lake Journal

Wellness Bus arrives weekly at community center for free health screenings, flu shots

Oct 05, 2021 09:24AM ● By Bill Hardesty

The Wellness Bus parks at the Central Park Community Center every Thursday from 3-7 p.m. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

The Wellness Bus, from the Universtiy of Utah, parks at the Central Park Community Center (2797 S. 200 East) from 3 to 7 p.m every Thursday. The purpose of the Wellness Bus is to identify risk factors for individuals at no cost. In addition, the Wellness Bus provides free health screenings, coaching and education.

“If people want help, we can help,” Nancy Ortiz, operations manager, said.

No insurance card or ID card is required. The services are typically for people 18 years and older. However, if a child is overweight or obese and has risk factors for diabetes, they may qualify for services.

Workers are diverse, bilingual and culturally competent. In addition, the workers have access to an interpretation service that speaks over 240 languages and dialects.

Another service provided in the fall is no-cost flu shots. The Wellness Bus will offer flu shots at the Community Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9.

Risk factors

A big focus for the Wellness Bus is detecting diabetes in individuals, especially the underserved populations. So, when an individual comes in, they are tested across nine vital markets.

  • Blood Pressure (Normal <120/80)
  • Body Mass Index (BMI) (Normal 18.5-24.9)
  • Waist Circumference (High risk for women >35 inches, for men >40 inches)
  • Blood Glucose (Normal with fasting <99 mg/dl, without fasting <139)
  • A1C (Normal <5.7)
  • Total Cholesterol Level (Normal <200mg/dl)
  • LDL (Bad) Cholesterol Level (Optimal <100mg/dl)
  • HDL (Good) Cholesterol Level (60 mg/dl+ protective against heart disease)
  • Triglyceride Level (Normal <150 mg/dl)

All information gathered is protected and not shared with others.

Staff don’t use labels such as obese. They don’t want to shame people into action.

“We meet people where they are and help them move on,” Ortiz said, “We are not here to judge. Instead, we find the risk factors and encourage people to seek medical care.”

If an individual doesn’t have a primary care physician or medical insurance, Wellness Bus student volunteers can provide information for two free clinics in Salt County. 

Connect2Health is a University of Utah College of Health outreach program. They “mobilize student volunteers to link underserved patients with social services and prepares students to be empathetic future health professionals who understand the importance of social determinants of health,” according to Connect2Health’s website.

Individuals can visit the Wellness Bus once or visit regularly. Individuals are given a card to track their numbers and provide the information to medical professionals.

Nutrition counseling

Another service offered on the Wellness Bus is nutrition counseling by a registered dietitian.

The first visit takes about an hour.

“I spend time getting to know the client,” Alex Hernandez said. “We decide together what to focus on and set goals to improve one or more risk factors.”

Individuals often return for a follow-up visit to check on progress and make modifications to their plan.

The visits can be in-person at the back of the bus or by video chat.

“My motivation is to give people the tools to live a healthier life,” Hernandez said.


On Feb. 20, 2009, Larry H. Miller, one of the most successful and famous Utah businessmen, died of complications of type 2 diabetes. He died after amputations of both legs six inches below his knee. He also suffered from kidney failure, gastrointestinal bleeding, bone infection, and a diabetic ulcer on one foot—all tied to type 2 diabetes.

With Miller’s experience in mind, the Larry H. and Gail Miller Family Foundation gave $5 million to the University of Utah to create the Driving Out Diabetes Initiative (DODI). 

The Wellness Bus is the flagship effort to “educate Utahns of all ages about diabetes and the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices, taking this message to where people learn, work, pray, and play [and] identify people who have higher chances of developing diabetes and target this population for primary diabetes prevention strategies,” according to the DODI mission statement.

The Wellness Bus launched in June 2018 and has been working with Promise SSL since the beginning. During the peak of the Covid pandemic, the bus was used as a mobile testing and vaccine location.