Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=157328
Story Retrieval Date: 6/19/2013 3:11:58 AM CST
Chelsea Robbins/ MEDILL
A 40-foot truck pulled up to Cameron Elementary School at 8:15 am on a recent Thursday. Pictures of young children and doctors covered the vehicle exterior and friendly faces waited inside while the movie, “Shrek,” played on the TV.
With parental consent forms in hand, children lined up outside the van, ready to receive vaccinations, physical exams and care for injuries.
Norwegian American Hospital’s state-of-the-art Pediatric Care-A-Van has two complete patient examination rooms, a medical station and a waiting area. The free health care center on wheels fills the gap for uninsured families. It makes rounds nearly five days a week to public schools, day cares, community centers, churches and health fairs to bring medical services to children from birth to 21 years old, primarily serving the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago.
“Our purpose is to get into the communities where parents are having a hard time, they don’t have insurance or a job, or the time to go to doctors,” said Russell Hyde, the van’s program manager. “So we try to get into the communities and schools to help families out.”
Hyde, a former paramedic from Zimbabwe, and his team have traveled to Cameron Elementary School more than 20 times in the last two years, since the Care-A-Van started offering services. With each van visit, about 15 children receive physical exams and immunizations, vision and hearing screens, asthma assessments, health education and behavioral health evaluations and treatment for fevers, sore throats and other illnesses.
Since 2008, more than 4,000 children have stepped aboard the medical mobile unit—many of whom are homeless, living in homeless shelters or in homes for battered women and children, said Pat Carr, the certified pediatric nurse practitioner on the van.
“We have children that are 10 or 11 years old that have never even once seen a doctor—ever,” Hyde said.
Many children don’t have the required vaccinations to attend school before the Care-A-Van arrives.
“If they had to go by that law where you can’t come to school if you don’t have your physical or immunizations, the streets would be filled with children,” said Hyde, who handles everything from getting supplies for the van to scheduling appointments. “It’s really a tough situation that the CPS is in so we try to get into as many schools as we can and try to get them updated so you’re not putting the other kids at risk that are compliant. It’s a double-edged sword.”
Nurse Carr provides children with everything from lead and hemoglobin testing to physical exams. She also watches for abuse, which she said she sees more than she cares to.
“We try to make this a very friendly and safe environment, because a lot of these kids need it,” said Carr, who doesn’t wear a white coat or scrubs but, rather, jeans and a sweater. “[The kids] come from stressful situations, and a lot of time negligent situations where they don’t have anybody that listens to them.”
Carr, who has been a nurse for nearly 30 years, tells the children about the meaning of confidentiality—anything that is talked about in the van stays in the van, and that seems to help a lot of children open up, she said.
The Children’s Care foundation, which helps provide pediatric and primary health care services to impoverished children, was the initial funding arm for the Care-A-Van. Private funding and other grants help the mobile unit continue to operate and provide care to underserved communities.
In the last year, the Care-A-Van team added Fernando Arroyo, a behavioral specialist. Arroyo, who is an ex- Navy paramedic, acts as an additional advocate in whom children can open up to and ask questions to about anything from sexually transmitted diseases to depression.
“[Cameron Elementary School], I would say, is the most challenging school we visit,” Arroyo said. “We’ve visited 20 or 30 schools, and this is our second time here this week. The first time we were just here to do mental health.”
Arroyo said the number one fear Cameron children have is for their safety.
“These kids are no strangers to violence,” he said. “I thought I’d seen a lot in the Navy… but this has opened my eyes to pretty much a new level.”
“You can’t even imagine what these kids go home to,” Carr said. “It’s humbling, very humbling.”
“We could be out seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Carr added. “Just because the need is so great—I only wish we had more trucks to go out.”
To schedule a Care-A-Van day at your school or center contact Russell Hyde at 773-292-2629.