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A drive to help others

Carolina senior Kevin Travia has experienced both sides of health care access, and that’s why he’s driven to bring primary care to those who need it.

Kevin Travia.
UNC graduating senior student, Kevin Travia, poses near a recently purchased bus for Rail Care Health, a group he created. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Kevin Travia’s interest in health care access began when he was 10 years old when a congenital condition required him to visit dozens of physicians and specialists.

He was able to get the care he needed, but then his dad lost his job and, with it, the family’s insurance. Suddenly Travia couldn’t ride his bike or do other fun things with his friends because he couldn’t risk getting into an accident that would require medical care.

“That experience really drove me,” said Travia, who will graduate from Carolina on Sunday.

It drove him to explore access to health care and ultimately start Railcare Health, an organization that provides primary care to the uninsured and underinsured in North Carolina via a medical bus.

Driven to help others

Travia’s experience and passion for providing care for unserved communities led him to Carolina, where he studied nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and minored in chemistry.

“Carolina is a really special place,” Travia said. “There are a lot of different people from different backgrounds, and you’re all brought into one space to come up with amazing and innovative solutions to problems that we face in the world every day.”

His drive also led him to put his classwork into practice.

With almost 20% of North Carolinians lacking access to proper health care, Travia wanted to find a way to bring that number down. He found the answer in an unconventional way: a bus he purchased on eBay.

He removed the bus seats, installed walls and added medical equipment. With that, Railcare Health was born, providing free medical care in various communities.

The bus is equipped with a triage area to take vitals, a room to draw labs and a space for volunteer doctors and health care professional to conduct exams.

A trained EMT, Travia can take vitals while on these visits, but he tries to take a step back to give volunteer students from Carolina and other institutions the chance to get experience.

“Part of what makes Railcare Health work is it’s not only an opportunity for patients to receive care,” Travia said, “but it also allows students to apply what they’re learning in the classroom to real people that really need their help. It’s a twofold mission.”

A life-changing experience

Ahead of the group’s first journey in 2018, Travia used data from the UNC Sheps Center to analyze access to primary care physicians in each North Carolina county. That data led them to Caswell County, which only has five primary care providers at the time, according to a Sheps Center report.

“When a patient came off the bus, he had tears in his eyes because he knew that we were giving him access to something he really needed,” Travia said. “It changed my life seeing that.”

Railcare Health now conducts monthly trips to rural parts of the state, but there are also opportunities for spontaneous visits. After Hurricane Florence hit the North Carolina coast, Travia led the group to New Bern to provide care to those affected.

He is now expanding the group’s efforts after receiving a second bus from a donor.

Travia will remain as the chairman of the board of Railcare Health after graduation, but he’ll move on from his role as CEO when he enrolls medical school, where he will continue to focus on improving health care access for rural populations of North Carolina.

“It’s truly an honor to graduate from Carolina,” Travia said. “I will always cherish the time that I’ve spent here. I can’t thank Carolina enough.”