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Mass General Brigham launches community health vans

February 18, 2021

To better support the people who live and work in communities hardest hit by COVID-19, Mass General Brigham is launching a fleet of community health vans in partnership with DPV Transportation, a transportation company based in Everett. The vans will offer a variety of services including COVID-19 testing, informational resources in a variety of languages, and care-kits with items to help stop the spread of COVID-19. 

“As we think about tackling inequities in health care, it’s essential that we build stronger ties to the communities that could use our support,” says Tom Sequist, MD, Chief Patient Experience and Equity Officer at Mass General Brigham. “These vans are helping us to bring resources directly to the people that need them most and are removing some of the barriers to health care that many face.”

The Kraft Center at Massachusetts General Hospital is one of the groups leveraging these new vans. With partial support through a National Institutes of Health (NIH) RADx-UP grant to expand COVID-19 testing for underserved populations, the Kraft Center is helping to coordinate walk-in, rapid testing in Chelsea, Revere, Everett, Lynn, and Charlestown. The vans will be located in heavily trafficked areas, at sites near food pantries, in proximity to schools and housing complexes, as well as in areas identified as hotspots by waste water surveillance. Van locations will be chosen in partnership with local community organizations. 

After staffing the pop-up MGH Respiratory Illness Clinic in Chelsea for COVID patients this past spring, Priya Sarin Gupta, MD, Primary Care Physician at the MGH Charlestown HealthCare Center, has seen firsthand the overwhelming need for community-based clinical resources like these vans.

“One theme that emerged again and again at the respiratory illness clinic was the need to take COVID testing and care outside the brick and mortar operations and to meet our most vulnerable patients where they were at, in the community,” says Dr. Gupta.

Appointments are walk-in only, free of charge, and all members of the community are encouraged to visit. No ID is required for testing. The hope is that by broadly offering testing in hot-spot areas, providers will be able to better manage patients who are asymptomatic or who have only mild symptoms. This means asymptomatic or mild symptom patients will know to isolate and those who are at high-risk can better monitor their health should their illness become more severe. 

“It is critical to ensure equitable access to diagnostic testing for COVID-19 and one way of doing so is making it as easy as possible, especially for vulnerable populations,” says Elsie M. Taveras, MD, MPH, Executive Director for the Kraft Center. 

She explains that mobilizing clinical services can help support the response to COVID-19 and overcome longstanding barriers to care that vulnerable populations continue to experience. Her hope is that by offering free, accessible testing in the community, getting swabbed for COVID-19 will become more normalized and less burdensome. 

Brigham and Women’s Hospital is also partnering with DPV to meet the needs of local communities. They plan to provide walk-up COVID testing, deliver care kits (which include masks, hand sanitizer, soap, and multi-lingual infection control tips), and information about the COVID-19 vaccine. This group will also be screening for Social Determinants of Health and connecting residents to local community resources. The van will be stationed at the historic Strand Theatre in the Upham’s Corner neighborhood of Dorchester in collaboration with Upham’s Corner Health Center.

While there are currently two vans deployed, the plan is that eventually five vans will be in circulation offering a variety of community health services related to COVID-19 support. 

Jose Perez, Chief Operating Officer at DPV Transportation, is excited to be partnering with Mass General Brigham to directly support local communities. 

Perez and his brother Daniel started DPV Transportation fifteen years ago out of their basement. In that time, the company has grown to more than 250 employees and expanded their offices to New York and Connecticut. Before COVID hit, the Perez brothers were on track to have their best year of business to date. But like many businesses, COVID-19 was disastrous for DPV. The company made the difficult decision to start layoffs and the team shrank by more than half. 

“Our workers live in these communities that have been highly impacted. They understand how people are suffering from this pandemic,” says Perez. “We are really excited to be a part of this effort and we’re able to really participate in these communities in ways that other people can’t.” 

Ingrid Beckles, Manager for Supplier Diversity at Mass General Brigham, says that she had been interested in working with DPV for years after connecting with them through the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council. 

“It was just the matter of finding the right fit,” says Beckles. “When you work with someone like DPV, who is so invested in a diverse workplace, you end up with strong ties to local communities.”

This article was originally published on the Mass General Brigham website, January 22, 2021.

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