If you see what looks like a giant RV with a splash of sunshine painted on the outside, you’ve probably spotted King County’s new Mobile Medical Van. You might catch a glimpse at various locations around the city of Seattle, starting this month, as it makes its rounds to church-sponsored meal programs, tent cities, and other locations where people living homeless gather.
The Mobile Medical program helps address some of the unique challenges of living homeless. How do you make a medical appointment and keep track of it, when you must continually focus on having a safe place to sleep, or on finding your next meal? How do you get to a clinic when you’re living on the streets or in a tent city?
How do you keep track of medications and other therapies? How do you navigate between mental health care provided by one clinic and care for your diabetes or other physical problem at another?
By offering on-demand, walk-up access to medical, mental health, chemical dependency, and other services, the Mobile Medical program helps people overcome these obstacles.
“Our services start with outreach,” said Alicia Benish, manager of the Mobile Medical program of Public Health–Seattle & King County. “We bring our services to locations where we can find clients, so we can get them connected to the services they need.”
Combining medical care with behavioral health care
On the van, medical services are provided by a physician, nurse, and chemical dependency professional, and services will soon be expanded to include a behavioral health specialist. Connecting with behavioral and mental health providers is a high priority for the mobile medical program.
A highly coordinated team approach means that someone who comes in to get treatment for a painful wound can also get diabetes treatment and mental health counseling at the same time — addressing some potential underlying problems. For follow-up care, the staff connect clients to clinics and other service providers.
An existing van has served South and East King County since 2008. The new van nearly doubles the number of homeless clients served across the county.
Funding for operating the new van comes through the City of Seattle Homeless State of Emergency and King County-leveraged federal grant dollars (from the Health Resources & Services Administration) for the capital costs of acquiring and refurbishing the vehicle. An initial pilot phase started in January, 2016, using the South King County van two days per week in Seattle.
- Walk-in primary care for acute and chronic conditions
- Counseling and linkages to mental health and substance use services
- Assistance establishing a regular medical provider
- Referrals to services including medical benefits enrollment, food banks, dental care and shelter