Mobile clinic gets health care to the streets

A medical clinic in a van designed to bring the B.C. health system to people living on the edge was officially unveiled Wednesday.

The clinic on wheels, funded by Telus and staffed by medical people from the non-government Doctors of the World, brings primary health care directly to vulnerable people such as the homeless, sex workers, addicts or runaway youth.

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Up and running since April, it was officially opened in a ceremony at Centennial Square.

The van is fitted like a doctor’s office with a small consultation space in front. In the rear is a separate examination area, with a sink, a seat and a bench covered with disposable paper on a roll.

“We go out to the parks, to the streets and to the back streets,” said Maude Blanchette Lamothe, nurse and co-ordinator of the program.

“We try to be a bridge between the street and the public health system.”

The van is always staffed by a medically trained person, such as a nurse or a doctor, and a volunteer outreach worker. On offer is primary medical care, tending to wounds, checking feet, skin conditions and recommending non-prescription medicine. The program works with other community organizations such as Our Place and Victoria Cool Aid.

Doctors of the World, or Médecins du Monde, was formed in 1980 by 15 French doctors who broke away from Médecins Sans Frontières, in favour of an approach designed to enable long-term solutions to medical crises. It operates around the world.

The group has been running a similar van and program in Montreal since 2014. It deals with 2,500 patients a year and has more than 100 doctors who volunteer their service. Victoria’s program is the second to be started in Canada.

Josh Blair, executive vice-president Telus health, said the van comes equipped with communications technology to access Island Health and a computer to record medical data.

Blair said the bonus of the digital communication system is that it makes it easier for marginalized people to connect or reconnect with the provincial health care system. “Once you have a medical history on someone you can provide a much better continuity of care,” he said.

Once record keeping begins, Island Health, or any other segment of the government health care system, is better able to link up with a citizen who for whatever reason has lost touch or finds it difficult to gain access to health care.

“For so many people living on the street, access to health care can be difficult,” Blair said.

“But when you bring the health care to them and it’s safe and reassuring, all of sudden you can build a relationship and a health-care record and re-integrate a citizen back into the system.”

Nadja Pollaert, executive director of Doctors of the World Canada, said universal health care is one of Canada’s proudest national accomplishments. Pollaert said her organization believes the long-term solution for people in dire need is to connect them with the public health system, but remain respectful of any hesitations they might have by allowing them to set the pace.

“You can push people into doing something or you can empower people to do something for themselves,” she said. “We decided we wanted to empower people to take charge of their own health.”

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