|By G. Michael Dobbs
Brother Michael Duffy is seen in the Elms CareVan awaiting people needing care.
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
CHICOPEE – As the Elms CareVan nears its one-year anniversary numbers indicate it is serving a need in the city.
Brother Michael Duffy, an assistant professor of nursing at Elms College and coordinator of the project, explained to Reminder Publications the preliminary health service program for the homeless has been visited 406 times so far this year and has about 80 repeat visitors.
The CareVan is parked Tuesday from 4:30 to 6:15 p.m. at Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen and from 10:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. at the shopping plaza on Exchange Street. Duffy said the retrofitted 1988 32-foot camper is now equipped with two treatment areas. Duffy and other volunteers do screenings for blood pressure and blood sugar levels, foot care and first aid. Duffy, with the cooperation of a local doctor, can even write prescriptions for a refill of a previous order medication, if necessary.
Launched on Jan. 13, he said the volunteers encountered a case of frostbite in the winter and dehydration during the summer.
The camper’s transformation was largely due to support from Peter Pan Buslines, which made the renovations at a greatly reduced rate, Duffy said. The project has also received support from a grant by St. Anthony’s Bread program.
Duffy explained the idea for the service came out of his doctorial studies in nursing. He believes that within Western Massachusetts the service is unique. Duffy has learned that Toronto, Canada, has had such a service, as did Hartford, Conn., although he believes the one in Hartford has been discontinued.
Homeless people in the city have few options for healthcare, he noted. Generally, homeless people travel the 3.2 miles to the Friends of the Homeless on Worthington Street in Springfield for any treatment or evaluation. That’s a considerable walk, Duffy said, or a bus ride with two changes.
Only adults are treated by the Elms CareVan, Duffy said. The Chicopee Health Center has been working with the CareVan accepting its referrals, but Duffy explained that part of the problem is that some homeless people “get put off” from the reactions of other patients in the waiting area and will walk away from treatment.
Duffy hopes that students in the nurse practitioner program at Elms will be able to eventually volunteer in the CareVan.
“We’re waiting for ours to come aboard,” he said.
Duffy believes the potential need for the van’s services is great. “We could put the bus on the road [more] if we had enough people,” he said. “I could be on the street every night of the week.”
Another possible use of the van in the future would be working with the Chicopee School Department, Duffy said, in evaluating the medical needs of the children of homeless families living in motels in the city.
Currently the project is funded for five years and it will be evaluated during its fourth year, Duffy said.
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