By Matt Sumethasorn and Pierre Kobierski
If you’ve seen a large white van with the words “Santa Barbara Street Medicine” sprawled across the side, you’ve probably spotted our new mobile medical clinic. With a $65,000 grant provided by the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara, DWW was able to obtain a Ford Transit Mobility Van, a vehicle large enough to house a medical cabinet filled with wound care supplies, backpacks full of medications, and a team of eager volunteers all under one roof. The seats are completely modular, allowing us the versatility of rearranging the interior to meet the needs of one of our clinics. Seats can be shifted around to create a private exam room or taken out completely to make room for medical equipment and extra hospitality supplies. The van also comes equipped with a wheelchair lift that can carry up to 800 pounds. With this lift, we are able to accommodate and transport wheelchairs users as well as patients’ belongings safely using special restraints. The van will also eventually be retrofitted with a secondary power supply, providing the extra electricity needed to power additional medical equipment, such as an ultrasound or x-ray machine. The mobile clinic is still in its infancy, but its potential seems limitless.
With a new set of wheels comes increased mobility: no longer limited by foot, the mobile clinic allows us to go directly where the need is. We can quickly mobilize and respond in times of crises and natural disasters, or follow-up with patients with chronic illnesses. Plans are already in progress to establish regular van rounds, where we would visit locations and camps that were previously inaccessible to us. Currently, we have expanded to Lompoc, where we operate out of the parking lot at Trinity Church of the Nazarene every second and fourth Saturday of the month. There, we provide free medical services, collaborating with local agencies to ensure all our patients’ needs are met. The church provides free food, showers, and clothing while social workers wander the premises to provide outreach and resources to those that seek them. Healthcare is a community effort, and we are proud to be a small piece of that puzzle. Doctors without Walls – Santa Barbara Street Medicine (DWW) has plans to eventually expand to other places in North County.
Houseless and impoverished individuals are at higher risk for chronic illnesses due to multiple barriers to healthcare. Lack of insurance and transportation are common reasons why injuries and infections are left untreated, which can result in long-term disabilities and further complications. The purpose of a mobile clinic is to provide accessible health care wherever the need arises. It is often difficult for our patient population to prioritize seeking medical care because food and safety are more immediate concerns. Our mobile clinic is a great way to reach these patients and help them address their health concerns with continuity and consistency. By providing services on demand, and promoting earlier access to care, programs like the mobile medical clinic limit the strain on local hospitals and may reduce costs associated with emergency services.
We have come a long way as an organization. In 2010, a DWW spokesperson said, “The hope is to one day have a mobile clinic that can go and meet the homeless where they are on the street;” today, that hope is a reality. Our patient population is dynamic and we must be ready to adapt to their continually shifting needs. We strive to serve our patients where they are, not where we want them to be, and to provide them with free, high quality medical care. With the launch of the mobile medical clinic, Doctors Without Walls – Santa Barbara Street Medicine ushers in the next generation of street medicine.