Community health van rolling into Guelph to help vulnerable people

A community health van will be making its first stop in Guelph on Thursday night to help vulnerable people who cannot always make it to appointments.

Sanguen Health Centre is bringing services on wheels to people who 'need a little more support'

Sanguen Health Centre's community health van displays its services in Kitchener, Ont. in July 2016. (Sanguen Health Centre)

A community health van will be stopping in Guelph for the first time on Thursday night to help vulnerable people who cannot always make it to appointments.

Violet Umanetz, manager of outreach for the Sanguen Health Centre – a not-for-profit agency based in Waterloo – said the van will make two stops in Guelph to bring health care to people who "need a little more support." The visit is being called a "soft launch" to give staff a sense of what is needed.

The service is being made available with help from a two-year grant of $155,000 from the Trillium Foundation.

Umanetz said the agency is not sure how many people it will help on Thursday, but has been told its roughly three hours services will be welcome. The program works with marginalized populations.

"It's a good opportunity for us. To be honest, if we see 10 people, we'll be delighted."

Piloted in Waterloo

"Waterloo Region was a really good place for us to pilot the project to see what the community response would be. When the van here did so well and was so well received, we starting asking if Guelph would be a good place, and we were told, yes, it would be," she said. 
Violet Umanetz, manager of outreach for the Sanguen Health Centre, a not-for-profit agency based in Waterloo, said the van will bring health care to people who 'need a little more support' in Guelph. (Sanguen Health Centre)

After launching in Waterloo, testing in Guelph makes sense, she said. "It was a natural extension to offer the same services and the same supports to the community in Guelph. Everyone there had been so excited about this rolling out. We had to do it."

Services offered include brief supportive counselling and referrals, testing for Hepatitis C, HIV and sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy testing, emergency contraceptives, flu shots, vaccinations, harm reduction supplies, Naxolone training and overdose prevention, clothing and hygiene supplies.

"We hope the community will come out to support us as well."

There will be seven people in the van, including five staff people from Sanguen, one staff person from Arch HIV/AIDS Resources and Community Health in Guelph plus a Waterloo Region public health nurse.

'What if we just went to them?'

Umanetz said the agency bought a Bell Canada van in 2015, retrofitted it, and rolled out health care on wheels. In December 2015, it helped 97 people in Waterloo. It expanded into Cambridge in March 2016.

With the Trillium grant, the agency bought a second van in August 2017 that is being used in Guelph.

"We decided, instead of asking people to come to us, what if we just went to them?" 

Now, the community health van sees about 350 people a week in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. Every week, the van spends three hours in Cambridge, one hour in Waterloo and one in Kitchener.

"That's an enormous amount of people," she said.

"We have found that the majority of people we see do not have a family doctor.

"It's been my experience that, in all the communities across Ontario, there is absolutely more poverty and more marginalization than most people are aware of. I don't know that Guelph is any different from any other community," she said. 

"What we are experiencing in some of the smaller cities and communities is a lot more hidden."

The van will be at the Wyndham House, 133 Woolwich St., from 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m., and at 90 Carden St. from 7:30 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.

Umanetz said the agency hopes to expand the service to three nights a week in Guelph. After evaluating Thursday's experiment, the agency hopes to have an official launch within the next few weeks.