A newly improved mobile health unit will soon hit the streets of Toronto to improve services for people who typically face challenges accessing health care.
Sherbourne Health Centre’s new health bus will resume activity next month and be based in the Moss Park area. While the health bus program has been running for some 20 years, this is its third bus, and this one can offer better care to more people.
The bus has two clinic spaces with separate entrances, so two clients can be served at once. And for the first time, it is wheelchair accessible.
A nurse practitioner will be on the bus to deliver primary care, such as pap smears, vaccinations, wound care and STI testing, while a mental health counsellor will also be on board to provide on-the-spot crisis care.
The bus is also equipped with naloxone kits, which can be used to treat a suspected opioid overdose.
Chantel Marshall, director of urban health programming at Sherbourne Health Centre, said the bus will help divert some patients who don’t have access to primary care and so end up in emergency rooms for non-life-threatening health ailments.
“The infrastructure to provide the services is really night and day, compared to our previous health bus,” Marshall told CBC Toronto on Thursday.
The bus will make scheduled stops that will be listed on the Sherbourne Health Centre website. Typically, the bus stops at shelters and other community agencies to help people who are homeless or under-housed, newcomers to Canada and others who face barriers to care.
A program worker on the bus will help patients access complementary care they might need, from health care to social services.
Volunteer Mike Holton first became homeless 10 years ago, when he was released from hospital, his mother had died and he had nowhere to go.
The 56-year-old was living in Allan Gardens, and the bus would stop at places, such as shelters and community centres. He was eventually referred to Sherbourne Health, where a housing worker helped him find a home and set him up with treatment for his hepatitis C. After that, he started volunteering on the bus.
“You’re stigmatized, you’re labelled, no one wants to talk to you,” he said of being homeless. “And these people would. They had people that worked on the bus that had lived experience, and that helped a lot. It broke a lot of barriers.”
Volunteer Christine Halliday, 71, first accessed the bus’s services when she was living at the Fred Victor shelter. It would provide her with everything from vitamins to socks.
She said the workers at Sherbourne Health got her out of the shelter and into her own apartment.
“They’re very good people here,” she said. “They listen to your problems, and they help. They are very understanding.”