Indigenous mobile health service launched in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

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A new primary care program launched in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside aims to deliver health care to women in a culturally appropriate manner.

The Women’s Mobile Primary Care Program’s new mobile health unit van teams doctors, nurses and social workers with Indigenous knowledge keepers, elders, and healers to provide care from an Indigenous perspective.

A Wednesday press conference to announce the launch of the new mobile unit started with a traditional blessing where cedar leaves were washed onto the van.

The unit offers women-specific services from pap smears to IUD insertions and removals, sexual health testing, and birth control.

Rosemary Stager-Wallace of the Vancouver Aboriginal Health Society, which partnered with the First Nations Aboriginal Primary Care Network to launch the mobile unit, says it’s something the community has been demanding for a while.

“Women on the Downtown Eastside are still vulnerable to violence and racism,” Stager-Wallace said. “They have a really hard time accessing primary care services.”

Jennifer Whiteside, BC’s minister of mental health and addictions, says the aim is to have mobile care vans offer flexible care for isolated and vulnerable people.

“You have to take care to where people are,” Whiteside said.

“We can’t set up systems that require people to come to us. We can’t set up systems that have barriers for people. We have to take down those barriers and that’s what this program is about.”

Holistic health treatments

The van will also provide a range of holistic health treatments for the Indigenous community.

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“We can offer them sage and then they can smudge it down, and then fanning them down just to give them a better energy and feel better about themselves,” Ann-Harry said.

All of the health-care providers will be women with a goal of including as many members of the Indigenous community as possible. The program is open to all women on the Downtown Eastside.

“We get to go to them and I’ve already got a really good ground rapport with them so that they’re looking forward to seeing us,” Ann-Harry said.

The new van operates three days a week and will park in different locations in the Downtown Eastside.

Women are invited to drop by at anytime. No appointments are necessary.