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Northeastern’s new health van expands community care

It may not make house calls, but the new Health and Wellness Van in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences comes pretty close.

“Our new Health and Wellness Van is a key part of our mission and an important way we can serve our community,” Bouvé Dean Terry Fulmer said Thursday at a ceremony outside Behrakis Hall to inaugurate the new, 35-foot van.

Students and faculty use the van to visit dozens of communities across Massachusetts to provide basic clinical screenings, immunizations, health education, referrals and follow-up care. The new van continues Bouvé’s mission of serving disadvantaged and disenfranchised patients, and replaces the first health van that launched in 2003.

The new van includes larger lab spaces and more private consultation areas. It will also facilitate increased inter-professional development and use-inspired research among Northeastern’s students and departments. The research includes the use of new technologies such as testing of a new tablet computer that will be used to access and update the electronic medical records of the health van’s patients.

To help provide this care, Bouvé partners with organizations including the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, the Boston Public Health Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Nearly all Massachusetts residents — about 98 percent, a number boosted by legislation that became the model for the federal reforms passed in 2010 — have access to health care, but those without care can be especially difficult for health professionals to reach and treat, said Huy Nguyen, the medical director of the Boston Public Health Commission.

“Underserved populations like the homeless, people with mental illness and those who battle substance abuse are very hard to reach,” Nguyen said. “Programs like the Health and Wellness Van can help bridge that gap.”

The van — acquired with the support of organizations including the Boston Scientific Foundation, Covidien and CVS Caremark Charitable Trust — also presents a valuable experiential-learning opportunity for Northeastern students.

“Just as the experience is transformational for those who seek care from this van, we hope it will also be transformational for the students who volunteer here,” said Rita Nieves, the director of the Boston Public Health Commission’s Addictions Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Support Systems.

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