In 1993, an 18-foot van loaded with clinicians, social workers, counselors and outreach workers began winding its way down New Haven's streets to offer medical services, HIV testing and counseling and referrals to substance abuse programs. The van, since replaced by a 36-foot model with two exam rooms, a counseling room and a waiting area, is linked to the city's needle exchange program. Funded by a $3 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the health care van's operation is a collaboration among the medical school, the City of New Haven, Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Hospital of St. Raphael, and several community health centers. Although it operates in conjunction with the city's needle exchange program, it has separate funding.
“We traveled everywhere the needle exchange went,” says Frederick L. Altice, M.D., HS '87, director of the van project. “I realized this would be an important method to provide medical care and prevention services to drug users.” It also provides medical care to people who are homeless and lack medical insurance, providing acute care and referrals to community-based health care providers. In its first three years of operation the van treated more than 1,800 people, many of whom had HIV/AIDS.