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MMU continues to provide critical support to overdose crisis

Overhead view of the Mobile Medical Unit and supply trailer
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It’s been eight weeks since BC’s Mobile Medical Unit (MMU) was deployed to the Downtown Eastside to help support the record-breaking number of overdoses.

As of February 26, more than 1,748 patient visits have been recorded and over 444 BCEHS transports to the MMU.​

Vancouver Coastal Health requested the unit, which has acted as a temporary satellite emergency department since December 13, in partnership with the City of Vancouver, Providence Health Care and PHSA. 

The original intent of the unit was to act as a central place for BCEHS to decrease transport congestion and ease pressure on emergency departments like St. Paul’s, which was experiencing an overwhelming number of overdose patients.

Since the MMU was deployed, paramedics have continued to transport appropriate patients to the unit and avoid having to wait at the ER so they are available for the next call sooner.

The unit is staffed with Providence Health and VCH emergency room registered nurses, addictions physicians and outreach workers during the clinic hours. Initially the unit was staffed from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. seven days a week, though has recently modified the clinician component and hours, closing at 9 p.m. daily. This change was made to best meet the needs of the community and resources available.

A Telehealth link was also recently established to assist staff working in the unit by having instant, real-time video access to the emergency physician on-call at St. Paul’s Hospital in the event a specialized acute emergency consult is required for a patient.

But it’s not just overdose clients who are coming to the unit for care: over half of the people who visit are seeking opiate replacement therapy and counselling support including methadone or suboxone, drugs that treat opioid addiction, a naloxone kit or are requesting a meeting with an outreach worker.

“A number of the clients who have come through the unit have been looking for support and resources to help better their individual situations,” said Afshan Nathoo, clinical nurse lead in the MMU and registered nurse with VCH.

“In addition to serving as a place to receive care for potential overdoses, the unit’s location and set up in the Downtown Eastside have helped facilitate important relationships between clients, community outreach workers as well as community supports.”

“From our perspective, the MMU helps us ensure the patients we respond to in the Downtown Eastside have an important additional option to get the immediate treatment they need,” added Joe Acker, BCEHS director of patient care delivery for Vancouver Coastal Districts.

“Our paramedics have found the MMU not only provides excellent patient care, but with its support, our ambulances are also able to return to service more quickly, so our paramedics can care for other patients.”

In addition to the MMU, VCH has opened five overdose prevention sites in Vancouver since December. Teams are providing people who use illicit drugs with a safe space to be monitored and staff is equipped with naloxone and appropriate training for overdose response.

The MMU is a high-tech, state-of-the-art mobile health facility. Since 2011, the MMU has traveled throughout BC, lending its flexible clinical space for many purposes: as a temporary location for patient to receive care while their own hospital or health care clinic undergoes renovation; as an additional medial surge treatment space for health facilities including support to mass gathering events; as the home to specialized community outreach clinics; and as a hands-on classroom for disaster and clinical training. More than 5,000 patient visits have been recorded. The unit and team have supported more than 50 missions in BC, and trained over 1,000 clinicians and first responders across the province.

For more information, visit or follow the MMU on
Twitter: @MobileMedicalBC.  



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