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Community Health Van brings more resources to the community

From Left: Director of Community Health and Wellness Tracy Sylven, CHHC, MCHES, with Community Health Program Manager Katie Plante at a recent Community Health Van stop

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital’s Community Health and Wellness team have had more than 6,000 interactions with community members during their stops in Mattapan, Dorchester, Hyde Park, Roxbury, Mission Hill, Roslindale and Jamaica Plain aboard the Mass General Brigham Community Health Van. They use the van to offer resources like masks and hand sanitizer, COVID-19 testing and vaccines, blood pressure checks, food and personal care items and information about voter registration. They also offer connections to resources like employment, housing, food, childcare, legal services, healthcare, addiction services and safety. Now, through a series of new partnerships, the team is bringing even more to the community.

Personal Safety

With the summer fast approaching, both kids and adults are more apt to take to the streets on bikes and scooters. In partnership with the Boston Public Health Commission, BWFH’s Community Health and Wellness team is giving out free bike helmets with sizes for kids as young as three years old through adults. “I went through a special training course on how to properly fit the bike helmets in order to be a partner so that I can properly fit kids and adults,” says Director of Community Health and Wellness Tracy Sylven, CHHC, MCHES. 

Sylven says it’s been a great success so far. “People have been really happy,” she says. “There were two little kids who I fitted recently. They were so excited. I kept seeing them zooming by on their scooters for the next two hours.”

Food Insecurity

Food insecurity has long been an area of focus for Sylven and her team. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity in Massachusetts has increased dramatically. As a result, throughout the community, efforts to provide access to fresh, healthy meals have ramped up. On the Community Health Van, Sylven and her team have for some time been distributing prepared hot meals as well as groceries. Now, through a partnership with Food for Free, they can offer frozen meals.

Food for Free began in 1981 with a focus on “bridging the gap between waste and want” when a group of friends realized that local meal programs were struggling to put food on their tables. With borrowed trucks, these volunteers gathered fruit, vegetables and bread from local colleges and other institutions—food that would have been thrown away—and delivered it to meal programs, pantries and shelters. The group has been mainly based in Cambridge and Somerville, but have expanded their reach into the city of Boston by partnering with Sylven.

“This is a unique program because it reduces waste as well as gives food to people who need it,” says Sylven. “For our team, it’s greatly added to our options for our community members. Now community members can come to one of our Community Health Van stops and get a hot meal to eat right away, a bag of groceries with fresh produce to cook later in the week and these frozen meals to put away.”

It’s also proved to be an opportunity to deliver some education around healthy eating. “People were really excited about the chicken alfredo and the pork dish,” says Sylven. “But some people were hesitant about the tofu meal. But, because it was so colorful—it had butternut squash, chickpeas and broccoli rabe—it looked really enticing. It became a great opportunity to teach some nutrition and explain that tofu is a great source of protein that takes on the flavors you’re cooking with.”

Health Screenings

At Community Health Van stops and at Brookside Community Health Center, blood pressure checks by BWFH Community Health and Wellness team members have always been available. In fact, on the Community Health van alone, they have conducted more than 600 blood pressure screenings. But now, through a partnership with the Department of Public Health, the team is able to provide additional resources.

“We’ve screened for blood pressure for a long time. If we find a person has elevated blood pressure, we offer education and encourage them to connect with a primary care provider,” explains Sylven. “But now, through this partnership, we are able to give them a blood pressure cuff to take home and refer them to the YMCA for hypertension and diabetes classes, as well as a free three-month membership, which includes use of the pool and childcare.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, so are the needs of our community members. That’s why Sylven and her team are constantly seeking new partnerships with community organizations to meet the needs of the community when and where they need it.

To find a Community Health Van stop near you, click here.

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