December 3, 2023

The need for stable access to health-care and addictions services has never been greater, said Joy Bowen-Eyre, CEO of The Alex

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The Alex Community Health Centre has debuted its new mobile health clinic, aiming to increase access to health care and addictions treatment for marginalized Calgarians.

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In partnership with Telus, The Alex unveiled its “doctor’s office on wheels” on Tuesday — joining the outreach organization’s fleet of two larger health clinic buses and a mobile dental clinic. The mobile health clinics, staffed with a nurse practitioner and a peer support liaison, offer addictions management and treatment, and primary health-care services to Calgarians experiencing homelessness.

According to 2018 data from the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, 6,000 Calgarians are unhoused or in unstable housing on any given night, a number that has swelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That, coupled with a drug poisoning crisis also exacerbated by the pandemic, means the need for stable access to health-care and addictions services has never been greater, said Joy Bowen-Eyre, CEO of The Alex.

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“We’ve always known that people who are experiencing homelessness don’t access health care in traditional ways. We saw it even more so throughout the pandemic when they were afraid to access health care,” she said.

“Going to provide services and support and meet them where they’re at actually makes a significant difference.”

The new clinic, built into the shell of a cargo van, is smaller than the two buses the organization currently uses. Bowen-Eyre said the feedback they’ve received from people using their services indicates they’ll be more comfortable in the smaller space due to the van’s less noticeable presence.

“They actually felt more comfortable stepping into a smaller vehicle because they felt that it was not as big, not everybody was watching them as they stepped up and got into the vehicle,” she said.

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“We’ll also be able to be super nimble about where we drive it and where we can park it. It really has been what is needed, specifically in Calgary.”

The van will mostly be used in and around downtown Calgary, making stops at the Drop-In Centre and Sorce, a collaborative organization that connects people experiencing homelessness with multiple services at a single location.

The new health clinic is backed by Telus’s Health for Good clinic program. Through that program, Telus has committed $12 million through 2025 to help operate mobile clinics in 22 communities across Canada, each equipped with electronic medical record technology and Telus LTE Wi-Fi services to assist health-care professionals on board.

“Through the partnership, we’re able to provide everything from primary health services to mental-health support, addiction support services, to these underserved individuals in Calgary,” said Nimmi Kanji, Telus’s director of social purpose.

Since 2014, Telus says the Health for Good initiative has enabled more than 100,000 patient visits across the country, along with 30,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, tests and assessments through the pandemic.

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Twitter: @michaelrdrguez

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