For the past 25 years, the Family Van has been a successful model for the direct delivery of health care and preventive medicine.
The Family Van’s mission to bridge the gap between low-income communities and access to health care has remained its guiding light since its founding. People who visit the van as it travels through Dudley Square and other Boston neighborhoods near the Longwood campus are screened and coached on ways to develop healthy habits that can help reduce health concerns such as high blood pressure or cholesterol levels.
Since its inception, the program has provided preventive services for an estimated 63,000 people. About a quarter of those who have visited the van first learned that they were at risk for one or more chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, or HIV. According to research conducted by Family Van cofounder Nancy Oriol ’79 and others, the mobile health care unit’s services have also led to considerable cost savings by local emergency departments.
“In 1992,” says Oriol, HMS faculty associate dean for community engagement in medical education and an HMS associate professor of anaesthesia at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, “Cheryl Dorsey ’91, then a third-year HMS student, and I spent a year codesigning the Family Van with our Boston neighbors. We created our program to be a visible symbol of health as a valued family tradition and of trust as a valued medical tradition. We have now made more than 100,000 deliveries of health care directly to streets where our families live, work, learn, and play. It’s been magical.”
The Family Van continues to serve these communities, especially those that are most at risk. The program also works with nearly one hundred partners, including health centers, community and housing development organizations, and food pantries, to address other unmet needs that may affect their patients’ health.
Image: Liza Green