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The mobile clinic will offer services to those experiencing homelessness in Victoria
The Victoria Cool Aid Society now has a second mobile health clinic—a 2022 Mercedes Sprinter refitted to reflect its medical purpose—doubling the primary care it can provide to Victoria’s most vulnerable.
Candide Dias of Victoria’s Cool Aid Society–which operates the van–calls them doctor's offices on wheels.
“We’re equipped to do anything that you would have done in a doctor’s office, Dias told Capital Daily.
“We can draw blood work, we can do pelvic exams, we can do sutures, we do a lot of wound care. We can give vaccinations, prescribe medication.”
The additional clinic–a benevolent byproduct of donations, fundraising and partnerships with Telus and Island Health–will allow Cool Aid to expand its services for the homeless, sex workers and marginalized women, while handling referrals for dental and physiotherapy services.
These vans are not ambulances, which provide emergency care. Mobile clinics provide primary care.
Picture those old roaming library vans that used to be commonplace in small Canadian centres. The big trucks, chock-full of books and magazines, would pull up to elementary schools to welcome eager young readers who’d climb aboard to peruse publications they otherwise wouldn’t see.
Only this is much more serious.
“Our priority population is people struggling with homelessness, mental-health issues and substance abuse,” said Cool Aid’s Karen Lundgren.
In June 2021, Doctors of the World donated the city’s first mobile health unit, which continues on the road five days a week.
The new van–which arrived in May and made available for the media to see last Thursday–is on the road four days a week during the day.
On board are two nurses and a doctor, able to provide care to people who otherwise wouldn’t get it.
“If you had concerns about your blood pressure, if you had a set of headaches, if you have vision changes, if you thought you had a urinary tract infection, you go to your doctor’s office. That’s why you come to the mobile health clinic,” said Lundgren.
Hopefully you’ll never have to experience it first-hand, but if you climb into the van you would first see a reception area with a bench, table and laptop. This is where initial assessments–triage–are conducted.
The van is equipped with an EMR (electronic medical record system) so doctors can pull up medical records right on the spot, send a referral or book an X-ray. Telus is a major sponsor of the van, so of course, it’s wired with wi-fi.
“So it doesn’t matter where we’re parked, the doctor or nurse can pull up medical records to see what the results were of the bloodwork [the client] had done,” said Dias, coordinator of mobile health services at Cool Aid.
Walk through a doorway and there’s a larger, soundproof area in the back, complete with an exam table and another laptop ready on another workstation table.
“It’s a really well-designed and utilized space,” Dias enthuses. “We can do a full gynecological exam here, we’ve got the stirrups that come out, we’ve got a Pap plate, the bed adjusts.”
The van also is equipped with a centrifuge, used to spin blood to separate red blood cells, platelets and plasma, as well as medical supplies.
Lots of medical supplies, especially for wound care.
“Unlike you or I, if we have a wound, we have the capacity because we have a home, to take care of it, keep it clean and dress it,” Dias said.
“But folks living rough outside, they’re often dirty. Intravenous drug use often causes infections, so we do a lot, a lot of wound care.”
The mobile health units are crewed by a rotating staff of 12 nurses and four physicians, and have a set schedule, distributed within the community each month, so clients know where to go.
The clinics also make their way to soup kitchens, the Pandora corridor and Mustard Seed, among other stops, including biweekly visits to Spaken House, also known as Flower House, on Hillside Ave., and the House of Courage on Catherine St., two Indigenous supportive housing facilities.
“We’ve built relationships with clients that haven’t accessed health care for five, 10, 15 years,” said Lundgren.
“They’ve had traumatic experiences in the traditional health-care system and so with the consistent staff, with the consistent schedule, showing up for people . . . it makes a difference in peoples’ lives.”
The program also works in tandem with Peers, a sex-trade workers organization, to provide comfort and aid to members of the sex workers’ community.
“We could probably run both vans seven days a week, and still not be able to see all the folks who need to see us,” said Dias.
Telus Health supports mobile health vans in 25 Canadian communities, including Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax.
The company has invested $13M in the program through 2026. More than 45,000 patients were served last year, one-third of whom would not have accessed health care otherwise, according to the Telus website.