Hygiene van expands its mission to offer telehealth services in Philadelphia

The hygiene truck, brightly colored, sits outside City Hall.

The hygiene truck, launched by Broad Street Ministry in September last year, is now providing telehealth services to the Philadelphians it serves. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

A van distributing dispensing free toiletries — and a dose of kindness — to Philadelphians in need since last September is adding a new mission: telehealth services.

Geremi James of Broad Street Ministry said the area behind the driver’s seat has been remodeled to allow privacy for a patient and a person to take the vital signs and set up a video link to a doctor or other medical professional.

“Triage-like community health access is important for longer term health services, so we’ll have someone that’s on that’s able to do vitals and they’ll be able to connect to a doctor right away,” James said. Through the telehealth connection, patients “can talk about different symptoms or experiences that they’re having and be able to be connected to longer term treatment just from this front of the truck.”

The brightly colored van resembles a food truck, but those who need help can sign up at the side window for everything from feminine hygiene products to hand sanitizer, which is handed out the window in discreet packaging, James said. One side of the truck also has a hand washing station with two sinks to offer sanitary services.

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The inside of the hygiene truck.
The hygiene truck provides toiletries to Philadelphians in need. It now has a private space behind the driver’s seat for telehealth services. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Laure Biron, CEO of Broad Street Ministry, said the Starbucks Foundation and Life Science Cares helped with the upgrades to make the van ready for telehealth duties.

Lil Schonewolf of Trinity Health, a group that helps sponsor the van, says offering telehealth services on the street like this gives them a chance to help people who normally wouldn’t walk through their doors.

“We need to be out on the streets and making sure that we’re addressing the issues that they need, things that we take for granted every day,” Schonewolf said. “Having the van go into the neighborhoods that most need it and providing hygiene care and now telehealth services is only going to help to improve the population that we serve.”

The van has already made eighteen visits to nine separate locations and distributed over 8,000 personal hygiene items since it had a soft launch last fall. City leaders joined a ceremony at City Hall to mark the official start of the vehicle offering its expanded services.

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