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St. Francis Healthcare uses St. Clare Medical Outreach Van to provide primary care, coronavirus testing

A COVID test is performed at Corpus Christi by a member of the St. Clare Medical Outreach Van staff.

Days before the coronavirus began to alter everyday life in Delaware, officials from St. Francis Healthcare gathered in downtown Wilmington to introduce the new and improved St. Clare Medical Outreach Van. The primary-care medical practice on wheels had been given a boost through partnerships with various entities in the state and had an ambitious schedule to reach the underserved in New Castle County.

After about a month of carrying out its intended purpose, the staff of the St. Clare Van was forced to scuttle primary care. But the van has resumed operations, assisting in the battle against COVID-19 while getting back to its primary mission, officials from St. Francis said Aug. 10.

The St. Clare Medical Outreach Van provides services at Corpus Christi Church in Elsmere. (Photo courtesy of St. Francis Healthcare)

“Tuesdays and Thursdays every week, we do community COVID testing,” said Lisa Schieffert, manager of community outreach for Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic and St. Francis Healthcare. “We work very closely with our faith-based communities. We’ve been to a handful of our fellow Catholic parishes. We’re also working with other faith-based groups in our community in areas that both the state and we consider high need based off the number of positives that we’re seeing.”

The van’s staff has tested close to 3,000 community members, many of them in three zip codes in Wilmington: 19801, 19802 and 19805. That will continue at least through the end of August, Schieffert said.

The van resumed offering primary care in July, offering those services on Mondays and Wednesdays. When St. Francis announced its new partnerships in March, the St. Clare Van had a schedule that included visits to various locations in New Castle County several days a week. That has been reduced for now, but all of the communities on the original list are being served.

“We go to those sites and provide primary care services. We also provide COVID testing as part of routine care. So far, the numbers at those Monday and Wednesday visits have returned to our pre-COVID patient encounters. It’s nice to know that the community is coming out to see us and receive primary care services,” Schieffert said.

In March, St. Francis Healthcare introduced the Community Mobile Healthcare and Wellness Program. The van was to provide a facility to offer services like preventative screenings, immunizations for adults and children, physical examinations, blood pressure checks, lab tests and referrals to community-based organizations.

Officials from Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic, St. Francis’ parent company, joined with representatives of Highmark Delaware, which provided a grant in excess of $424,000 to help make the expanded services possible, and representatives of state government to announce the program. The original schedule aimed to reach audiences in Wilmington, New Castle and Claymont. It also provided students from the University of Delaware hands-on experience while supporting the van’s staff.

“We got about a month of the partnership under our belts before we had to shut down and kind of rethink how we were going to provide services in the community,” Schieffert said. “Once the governor kind of … put us into phase two, that’s when we resumed our primary care services.”

Currently, the goal is to get to each of their sites at least once a month, she added.

Dr. Ralph Gonzalez, the chief medical officer, said the van was never really off the street. “It was really just meeting the needs of the community in a different capacity, and that’s kind of been the core mission of the van over the past 20 years.”

“I think the story of the van is really about providing access to necessary services.”

The St. Clare Van staff recognizes that “needed medical services don’t go away just because there’s a pandemic,” Gonzalez said.

Dr. Sandy Gibney and staff provide services.

That is important for patients to know, he said, because some may have been putting off important care with the belief that hospitals were just treating COVID patients. The staff’s message is, ‘If you need care, we’re here for you,” the doctor said. “We’re continuing to provide that also in our family practice office if needed through telehealth and other innovative care delivery methods.”

Christy McCabe, the director of marketing for St. Francis, said the St. Clare Van’s partners have been diligent in getting the word out about the van’s schedule and services.

“Those partners have avenues of communication that we rely on, whether it is partners posting to social media or providing handouts to the community saying the St. Clare Van’s back in service,” she said.

According to Gonzalez, the van staff was more reactive with the care it provided in the early days of the pandemic, but they quickly realized the need to change their approach.

“I see us as more proactive in reaching out to our patients to say, ‘Hey, we know you have diabetes. We know it needs to be managed. Let’s schedule some time together. We can do it safely.’ I think that was done really well and professionally,” he said.

The van’s schedule is available at https://www.trinityhealthma.org/community-benefit/saint-francis-charity-care-programs/st-clare-van. For more information, call (302) 575-8218. For Spanish, call (302) 575-8222.