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MMU deployed to help respond to opioid overdose crisis

Overhead view of the Mobile Medical Unit and supply trailer
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​Beginning today, patients who overdose in the Downtown Eastside may be taken to BC's Mobile Medical Unit (MMU) to recover, easing the pressure on emergency departments and paramedics dealing with the record-breaking number of overdoses.

The MMU was deployed earlier this week by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). In partnership with the City of Vancouver and Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), the unit will act as a satellite emergency department for patients who overdose. 

It will take pressure off emergency departments, particularly St. Paul's Hospital, which currently sees the majority of overdose patients in Vancouver. VCH and Providence Health Care emergency doctors and nurses will treat patients in the MMU, and addictions physicians will be available to connect patients with opioid addiction treatment.

"The unit's ability to quickly and easily travel throughout the province makes it an ideal solution to be temporarily placed close to where this vulnerable patient population needs care the most," said Peter Hennecke, clinical operations director, MMU. "We're pleased to support this crucial project as part of the overdose prevention initiative."

Importantly, the use of the MMU as additional care space in the heart of the Downtown Eastside will also ensure paramedics avoid waiting at the ER and are available for the next 911 call.

"This is going to allow BC Ambulance paramedics to transfer patients into a hospital setting more quickly, allowing them to be back on the road to help other patients in emergency situations," said Linda Lupini, Executive Vice President. "This is truly an important addition to our capacity to deal with this unprecedented crisis."

Minister of Health Terry Lake, along with physician leaders and administrators from Vancouver Coastal Health, Providence Health Care and the City of Vancouver toured the unit yesterday to promote the important initiative.

In addition to the MMU, VCH opened two sites last week at VANDU (380 East Hastings Street) and Portland Hotel Society Washington Needle Depot (177 E. Hastings Street). Teams are providing people who use illicit drugs with a safe space to be monitored. Staff are also equipped with naloxone and appropriate training for overdose response. 

The request for more supports to help tackle the overdose crisis came from the provincial government last Thursday, with health authorities, municipalities and other stakeholders tasked to rapidly develop and implement ways to safely support drug users.

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. The unit and team have supported more than 4,000 patient visits, and have trained over 1,000 clinicians and First Responders across the province.

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