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Community Health Care Van Serving the Underserved Community With New Mission

April 27, 2020
by Julie Parry

The Community Health Care Van, a mobile medical clinic created by Yale School of Medicine’s Rick Altice, MD, professor of medicine (infectious diseases), will repurpose its activities starting on Monday, April 27, to assist with combating the COVID-19 epidemic in vulnerable neighborhoods in the New Haven community. 

“The Community Health Care Van has long been committed to the local community, providing free care for people without access, with or without insurance, and for many who have a mistrust of the healthcare system,” said Altice. “We are poised to help reduce community transmission by providing community support to enhance physical distancing while also providing support and care to mothers and their newborns while we are in the community.”

A staple in the New Haven community since 1993, the 40 ft. mobile clinic has traveled directly to New Haven’s poorest neighborhoods impacted by HIV/AIDS, illicit drug use, homelessness, and mental illness. The van is equipped with examination and counseling rooms and can communicate with Yale New Haven Health’s medical record system, Epic. Now, with the volatile COVID-19 epidemic, the van’s new mission is to support these communities by helping reduce community transmission by distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) and educational materials on the disease.

“It is critical to stop the spread of this disease, so the new mission of the Community Health Care Van is vital to our community,” said Gary V. Desir, MD, chair, Department of Internal Medicine. “We know that COVID-19 can be spread between people without symptoms, thus it is important for people to protect themselves and others. Wash your hands frequently, and practice social distancing when out in public, and cover your face.”

In addition to handing out facial coverings and educational materials on COVID-19, the van will provide postpartum visits for mothers and their infants, coordinated with telehealth visits with their doctor. Rather than have mothers and infants travel to hospital clinics using public transportation, they can get their care near their homes and reduce risk to themselves or the rest of the community.

“Postpartum care is very important for the health of the baby and mother, and we want to offer high quality and accessible care which minimizes risks of viral transmission within the community provides,”  explained Leslie Sude, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics. “Patients (or new mothers) are concerned about exposure and are reluctant to have an in-clinic face to face encounter so the services now available from the community van are very important.”

The van is completely reliant on outside support. Funding from Yale New Haven Hospital’s Physicians Fund to provide community outreach jump-started the initiative with some assistance from the March of Dimes to supplement mother-newborn care. Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs Lynn Tanoue, MD, MBA, was instrumental in obtaining the funding to revamp the program. A number of organizations, along with Yale School of Drama, have donated face coverings to support the project. More help, however is needed if services are to continue.

“The van serves as an important conduit between the community and the hospital,” said Altice. “If we are effective in the community, we can hopefully reduce the incidence of COVID-19 in New Haven and thereby reduce the burden on the hospital.”

“This initiative is so important to our new mothers and their newborn babies,” said Clifford Bogue, MD, chair, Department of Pediatrics and chief medical officer of Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. “By re-purposing the van to deliver important clinical services to post-partum mothers and their newborns, we can continue to provide care to our patients during a time when some choose not to come to our Primary Care Center and Women’s Center for their care. I am grateful to Dr. Sude for thinking innovatively about how we can care for our patients.”

Directed by Sharon Joslin, APRN, FNP, the schedule for the Community Health Care Van is as follows:

    • Monday, Wednesday and Friday: At the fenced-in parking lot on Legion and Sherman near Ella Grasso Blvd. from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.; 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
    • Tuesday and Thursday: At Chapel St. Park in Fair Haven from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.; 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. 

Outreach workers will educate and provide PPE to the community, but only mothers and newborn infants will be scheduled for direct clinical care.

For more information on the Community Health Care Van, visit Yale Clinical & Community Research. If you are interested in donating to this initiative, please visit the Yale Office of Development website and specify Community Health Care Van in the text field.

Submitted by Julie Parry on April 27, 2020