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Moncton mobile health unit brings care to the homeless

Hoping to meet the rising demand, outreach programs in the Moncton area are expanding outside of the clinic walls to help reach clients where they are.

The idea took off during the pandemic when health-care professionals realized how challenging it would be for people living rough or homeless to receive care.

“It could be on the side of the street. It could be in shelters,” said nurse practitioner France Maillet-Gagnon. “So it’s really connecting with the services they are already going to sometimes.”

The Salvus Clinic, a not-for-profit organization, has been providing shelter services for three years. However, a new collaboration between Vitalité and Horizon Health Networks has allowed them to expand to all four homeless shelters and have more resources available.

“The goal is always to be impactful, meaning that you also want to help them get out of homelessness, right? So you want to make sure you connect them with other services even if they would have a provider already,” said Maillet-Gagnon.

“You can initiate the treatment, but also kind of encourage them to have those follow-ups.”

Last fall, Salvus was able to purchase a mobile health unit which allows them to drive to each city shelter once a week. The team on board is made up of members from Salvus, Vitalite and Horizon.

The Salvus mobile health clinic outreach team is pictured standing in front of the mobile clinic on April 12, 2023. (Alana Pickrell/CTV)

“We have had over 250 unique individuals accessing the service and over 400 unique types of appointments,” said Melissa Baster, executive director of Salvus Clinic.

“It can be anything from wound care to regular primary health-care treatment to a conversation with the peer health navigator for housing needs.”

The goal is to provide wrap-around services.

“It’s not just to give care in that moment,” said Maillet-Gagnon.

Raising awareness of the fact that not everyone is struggling with mental health or addictions, officials say, over the last three years, they’ve seen an increase in the number of homeless people due to rising rent costs.

“The need is throughout the city and it’s not just at the homeless shelter. It’s individuals who are unhoused and are living rough,” said Baxter.

She said once the two temporary homeless shelters in the city were closed, the goal was to adjust their services to continue to reach their clients.

“We’ll be taking our mobile health unit out to tent camps and other sites,” she said.

However, there is some worry about how long the team will be able to keep this service available.

“We had to seek out funding for the purchase of the mobile unit,” said Baxter.

“We received funding from Medavie, Saint John Human Development Council, physicians and private funders and that was around $200,000 and then we applied for funding through Health Canada’s substance use and addiction program, so that provided us with additional staffing to go work on the mobile units.”

But she says that the funding cycle ends March 2024.

Even with uncertainty ahead, officials say it’s nice to have everyone working together right now.

“What’s great now with advocating, education and just showing by example to other stakeholders and organizations we were able to kind of now have collaboration with other partners to offer that wrap around services,” said Maillet-Gagnon.

“We’re not the only ones trying to do everything, so we share that load so it’s more efficient and so we’re able to expand services.”

Hoping to expand services in Saint John as well, a new licensed practical nurse is being added to the team to work alongside an existing registered nurse.