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Elms College Garners $27,000 Grant to Expand Mobile Healthcare

CHICOPEE — The Elms College School of Nursing’s caRe vaN has received a one-year, $27,000 grant from the Raskob Foundation of Wilmington, Del. to expand its mobile healthcare project, which offers free nursing services to the homeless and underserved of Chicopee.

The caRe vaN is a mobile clinic run by Br. Michael Duffy, assistant clinical professor, coordinator of the Accelerated Second Degree in Nursing Program, and conventual Franciscan friar. He and nursing students provide free healthcare services, including blood-pressure checks and monitoring, blood-sugar checks, foot care, episodic first aid, minor wound care, and patient education. Since 2013, the van has set up shop on Sundays in the former CVS parking lot of the Exchange Street plaza and on Tuesdays at Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen and Pantry.

With this grant, “we’ll be able to expand mobile healthcare to the homeless. It also provides ongoing maintenance of our 1988 vintage van, which has a leaky roof and leaky window seals,” Duffy said. “We could bring on board a psychiatric nurse practitioner a couple hours a week. We also could bring on a driver, which could let us expand to a third day a week on the street.”

He also plans to use grant funds for monthly visits from a podiatrist and a barber, and even for monthly laundry vouchers for the van’s clients — all of which are services greatly needed by local homeless people. “Everyone who gets their blood pressure and blood sugar checked would get $5 toward laundry,” he said.

Without the grant, expanded services would have had to wait, Duffy said. “We wouldn’t be able to contemplate having a psychiatric RN on board. We’d have to be begging elsewhere for funding to fix our particularly leaky windshield — the rubber is shot.”

The caRe vaN helps Elms students prepare for their future nursing careers, he added. “Long-range, healthcare is somewhat headed out of the typical hospital-based model we saw years ago. It’s much more clinic-based and accessible.”

Students with experience in this kind of setting will be more marketable upon graduation, too. “It’s real hands-on work,” he said. “They’re working with folks in the community where they are. And it makes them think on their feet. The homeless are with us for a short period; it’s a transient culture, so they’re there for five to 10 minutes. How much can we get done? Can we encourage them to stay longer than just blood pressure and blood sugar?”

Working in the van also helps students live the Elms College mission of empowering students to effect positive changes in the community and in the world, Duffy said, adding it “teaches them creative ways to respond to the demands of their chosen profession — nursing — and allows them advocate for people in need. They go hand in hand, no doubt about it.”

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