The Adolescent Health Van, a mobile clinic for uninsured Bay Area youth, is about to celebrate its 15th birthday. As a release from Lucile Packard Children's Hospital explains, the Van has made a huge difference for the 3,500 young people - 40 percent of them homeless - who have walked through its doors:
"When we started the Health Van, our idea was that we would specifically target uninsured youth and provide easily accessible, comprehensive care," said Seth Ammerman, MD, medical director and founder of the Van. The Van uses a "Medical Home" model, a one-stop shopping approach in which patients aged 10 to 25 receive primary health care, specialty care, medications, laboratory work, nutrition counseling, mental health care and social work services. Since uninsured and homeless youth often lack transportation, the van comes to them, making regular visits to seven Bay Area schools and community agencies in San Francisco, San Mateo County and Santa Clara County. The goal is continuity - patients can build trusting relationships with their caregivers.
While researching the press release, I had the pleasure of interviewing Van patient Cathy Arines, a formerly homeless teen who turned her life around with the help of Ammerman and his colleagues. When she first visited the Van, Cathy had recently run away to escape verbal abuse at home. In the four years since, she has graduated from high school, found a steady job and her own apartment, and recommended the Van's services to several other young people. My favorite part of our conversation was hearing her talk about her future:
Well-spoken and energetic, she now has a full-time job at Macy's and a part-time business doing freelance makeup for weddings and special events. She talks excitedly about her future, describing ambitions for expanding her business, traveling the world and starting a family of her own. Oh, and one more thing:
"My plan, when I'm successful, is to donate a big chunk of money to the Health Van," Cathy says. "That's one of my dreams. They helped me and I really want to help them."
Photos show Seth Ammerman, MD, with the Adolescent Health Van (courtesy Lucile Packard Children's Hospital) and Cathy Arines with her dog, Princess (courtesy Cathy Arines.)