Every week since 1992, residents in some of the city's most impoverished neighborhoods have found The Family Van parked at curbside spots in Boston's Dorchester, East Boston, Roxbury, Hyde Park and Mattapan Square communities. Most of these neighborhoods are designated as medically underserved, and The Family Van's convenient care provides a bridge to health and social services in a comfortable setting.
The Family Van's clients are from groups that experience the poorest health or have the hardest time accessing health care: 86 percent are minorities and 32 percent speak English as a second language. Almost half of the Van's clients visit only the emergency room if they have a medical need or they don't go at all-27 percent have undiagnosed chronic illnesses like hypertension and glaucoma. Nine in 10 receive government-subsidized insurance or are uninsured, and have difficulty establishing a relationship with a primary care provider who could provide preventive care. Helping clients learn about, trust and utilize the ever-changing health-care system is one of the Van's primary functions.
Many of these clients who are shutout or feel unwelcome in the conventional health care system find the services provided by The Family Van are their only link to disease prevention and chronic disease management. These services include education, testing and counseling on diabetes, obesity, hypertension, nutrition, glaucoma, HIV/STD prevention, prenatal care and reproductive health, among others. The Van's diverse and culturally competent staff also counsels clients on how seemingly minor lifestyle changes such as diet, moderate exercise and quitting smoking can have a dramatic impact on health.
To date, the program has seen impressive improvements in client health through identifying high levels of undiagnosed medical conditions and providing the tools to manage these issues. For example, more than half of the Van's regular clients initially diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar report having it under control by their most recent visit. Unnecessary emergency room visits have also been reduced.
The Family Van is affiliated with Harvard Medical School and collaborates with a wide network of partners, volunteers and supporters. Along with the services it provides its clients, the Van also provides firsthand, practical experience to medical students with the goal of ensuring diversity and cultural competence in the next generation of health-care professionals. As just one of 2,000 Mobile Health Clinics in the country, The Family Van seeks to demonstrate through research and advocacy the value of mobile care in eliminating the health disparities that affect racial and ethnic minorities.
"Mobile Health Clinics are a proven model for both improving access to care and health," says Jennifer Bennet, Executive Director of The Family Van. "They can be leveraged to achieve the goals of the Affordable Care Act in coordination with hospitals and community health centers."