Victoria mobile clinic delivers critical healthcare to those in urgent need
Victoria resident Garry says his own positive experience as a client reflects the Cool Aid Society ethos of helping people by accepting them for who they are. The launch of the Cool Aid Mobile Health Clinic, powered by TELUS, means the non-profit can now expand its critical outreach work in the capital region. PHOTO BY KAREN MACKENROT
Garry has seen hard times in life, but today he is filled with gratitude.
“I'm grateful to have good people who have helped me on my journey,” he says. “Because everybody has a journey to go through, right?”
It’s why he feels strongly about the launch of a high-tech mobile health clinic on wheels in his home city of Victoria.
The Cool Aid Mobile Health Clinic, operated by the Victoria Cool Aid Society, began operations in July 2021 in partnership with TELUS Health for Good. Victoria is one of 22 communities in which Health for Good mobile clinics operate across the country, collectively backed by a $12-million commitment from TELUS. They serve to offer an effective model of primary care outreach to address specific needs within each community, meeting people where there are – including on the streets, at other service providers, in a wide variety of sheltering sites.
For Garry, it means more lives will be enhanced.
He’s been a client at Cool Aid since 1999, when sharing a needle led to him being infected with HIV. Sober now for seven years, Gary is much healthier himself. He currently takes medication and has an undetectable viral load, meaning he can’t transmit the virus.
That feeling of being prioritized, without judgment or shaming, is what keeps Garry committed to the non-profit. It’s an experience he wants others in need to share.
“I call them my friends. They are a part of my little community,” he says of the nurses and staff. “Who knows where I’d be in life if I didn’t have all these people helping me.”
Karen Lundgren, Cool Aid clinical nurse leader, says connecting one-on-one with people is key to bringing them into the healthcare system. “People have felt so judged and stigmatized when it comes to substance use, sexual orientation, race or religion,” she says. PHOTO BY KAREN MACKENROT
Care and compassion
The mobile clinic is a timely extension of Cool Aid’s work to address homelessness and addiction in the capital region.
Victoria, like many urban communities in North America, is experiencing increasing challenges with housing insecurity and addiction – a situation that deepened with the onset of COVID-19. A 2020 housing survey conservatively estimated that approximately 1,500 people face housing insecurity nightly in the capital region. Many are also in need of health services, including primary care, harm reduction, and mental health support.
Equipped with TELUS Health’s electronic medical record (EMR) technology, TELUS Mobility services, and TELUS LTE Wi-Fi network technology, the mobile clinic allows Cool Aid staff to deliver primary care to people who cannot easily access traditional medical care, yet are in urgent need.
“This kind of outreach will ultimately lead to better patient outcomes,” says Mary Chudley, Cool Aid’s director of health and support services
Wound care, for instance, may seem minor, but it’s an important service provided on board the mobile clinic. Immediate, street-level intervention can help prevent future ER visits for more severe infection or sepsis, leading to better patient outcomes and taking pressure off the already-strained medical system.
The clinic also offers harm-reduction kits, supplements, and other supports -- all without judgment. As Chudley explains, “Some people that we have recently begun to see have not received any health services for decades because of negative interactions with the healthcare system.”
Every day, Karen Lundgren, Cool Aid clinical nurse leader, sees the consequences of those bad experiences.
“People have felt so judged and stigmatized when it comes to substance use, sexual orientation, race or religion,” she says.
Connecting one-on-one with people is key to bringing them into the system and helping them engage with the services they need.
According to Candide Dias, coordinator of the organization’s Outreach Health Services, that connection has people approaching the van before its doors are even open. And though clients often come to the clinic for one reason, the keen eye of a nurse will often notice that they need other care, too, such as treatment or dressing for a wound.
Candide Dias, coordinator of outreach health services at Cool Aid, says clients often come to the mobile clinic for one reason, but, after seeing a nurse, will be treated for other health concerns. And that means better healthcare outcomes for those in need. PHOTO BY KAREN MACKENROT
A need for kindness
Since its launch in July 2021, the Cool Aid Mobile Health Clinic has supported over 6,000 visits from people who previously may not have had any care at all, and their work is not slowing down. So far, the outreach team has been busy offering wound care, doing blood work, and requesting diagnostic tests, among other things, stopping at locations throughout Greater Victoria, including several Cool Aid locations, Our Place, Tiny Town, Mustard Seed, The Rainbow Kitchen and others.
According to Lundgren, the mental health intervention and outreach in the mobile clinic made an immediate impact. Among their first mobile clinic clients was someone who hadn’t accessed any health services for over 20 years due to mental health issues and stigma. During that first encounter, she says, “the client was started on medications for anxiety and depression, and was connected to the counselor at Cool Aid Community Health Centre. The client was also started on antibiotics for extensive infected wounds on his lower legs.”
Garry says his own experience reflects the Cool Aid ethos of helping people by accepting them for who they are. Compassionately addressing mental health is a big part of that equation.
“The community needs mental health workers on the streets trying to catch that one person who might want to clean their act up. Mental health needs to come to people – to talk and have a kind word,” he says.
The need for more kindness also drives Lundgren in her community health work.
“I am a very lucky human being who grew up in a family that was upper-middle class, and I had access to a great education, loving parents, protection. So many people do not come from a place like that,” she says.
“People would do well to reflect on their privilege, and care more about their fellow humans.”
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