New mobile medical clinic serves capital region's street population

Until recently, health outreach workers for Victoria Cool Aid Society who wanted to see their homeless patients had to go on foot, with all of their supplies on their backs.

“Having ‘feet on the street’ is your traditional outreach,” said Karen Lundgren, clinical nurse leader with Cool Aid. “We knew that we could see more people, go to more places and do more with the right equipment.”

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That right equipment has arrived in the form of a new specially equipped van — a medical office on wheels — that will be used by the health outreach team, which consists of a doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, social worker and outreach co-ordinator.

The mobile clinic, with funding help from Telus Health For Good, began operations three weeks ago and is on the road four days a week.

Services offered include treating wounds, providing contraceptives, testing for sexually transmitted infections and providing mental-health supports. Intravenous drug users will be able to get clean needles, dispose of their used syringes or get information on harm-reduction strategies.

“I think it’s like a medical ‘meals on wheels’,” said Garry Gordon, 54, a Cool Aid client who started using drugs when he was 15. “I think it will be well received by the street community.”

He compares the new van to former street preacher Rev. Al Tysick’s coffee truck. Known as Reverend Al to the street community, Tysick is known for roaming the streets at 5:30 a.m. every morning with coffee and muffins.

Gordon, who has been clean since Oct. 6, 2014, said the stigma surrounding homelessness, addiction and poverty prevents many in the community from seeking medical care.

The clinic will practice “trauma-informed” primary medical care, which assumes that any patient they see will likely have a history of trauma.

Lundgren said getting a mobile health unit has been a “vision for a number of years.”

The society provides health-care services to 7,000 patients, including those experiencing homelessness.

The van was a donation from Montreal-based Doctors of the World, an international human rights organization, which had deployed the mobile clinic in the spring of 2018 from Sooke to Sidney and recorded about 4,100 visits. Early this year, it offered the van to a community group to continue the work —something Cool Aid was able to do.

Cool Aid also runs a Community Health Centre, which provides primary health care, a dental clinic and a pharmacy dispensary.

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