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Community Health and Wellness Team Takes to the Neighborhood in Community Health Van

From left: Community Health Program Coordinator Katie Plante, Director of Community Health and Wellness Tracy Sylven, CHHC, MCHES, and BWH ED Patient Navigator Joe Tulip

“People have so many needs,” says Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital’s Director of Community Health and Wellness Tracy Sylven, CHHC, MCHES. “But it’s the connection to resources that is the challenge.”

For many residents of Boston’s neighborhoods, language barriers, lack of transportation and a host of other factors often stand between a person and proper healthcare for them and their family. The Community Health and Wellness team focuses their efforts on breaking down those barriers and bringing services to community members, right in their neighborhoods. Earlier this year, Sylven and her team gained access to use the Mass General Brigham/Brigham Health Community Health Van, allowing for safe, socially distanced interactions outdoors.

They use the van to offer resources, including masks and hand sanitizer, information about COVID-19 testing and vaccines, blood pressure checks, food and personal care items such as diapers, feminine products, etc. and information about voter registration. They also offer connections to resources like housing, food, legal services, healthcare and safety and can directly schedule an appointment for a vaccine.

“We have received so many donations, from food to diapers and everything in between,” says Sylven. “With the van, we are able to bring those items right into the community and distribute them where there is greatest need.”

The van makes weekly stops in neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19. In many of these neighborhoods, community members struggle with language barriers. Luckily, on board the van is an Interpreter on Wheels. Using an iPad, the team can easily connect with a trained interpreter to help provide health and wellness information in any of hundreds of languages. 

“There was one day when I met a community member who only spoke Cantonese,” recalls Sylven. “He told me how isolated he has felt throughout the pandemic. He couldn’t access the important information he needed related to testing and vaccines and just felt so lonely and scared as a result. We were able to speak with him in Cantonese and help him find the information he so desperately needed.”

Sylven continues, “We recently received a gift from a generous donor who wants to help fund the Community Health Van going forward. As a result, we can continue to offer these much-needed services and even expand our reach.”

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