Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois’ (BCBSIL) Care Van® program has added a new vehicle to its fleet to help serve residents in an often-overlooked part of the state.
The third van will address longstanding health needs in Waukegan and northern Lake County, while the other vehicles — one in Springfield and another in Chicago — continue providing COVID-19 vaccines to local communities.
“When people think of northern Chicagoland, they may picture wealthy suburbs where health is not an issue,” says BCBSIL Outreach Specialist Kevin Sloss, who oversees the Care Van program. “But when you look at the population health data there are major gaps in care.”
In Waukegan, for example, social determinants that affect health outcomes such as public transportation and access to affordable care are limited. More than 16% of people under 65 are uninsured and a single hospital serves the city of nearly 90,000, causing many to fall through the cracks.
For years, the Care Van program has provided Erie Family Health Centers in Waukegan with grant funding and vehicles to address those care gaps. Vans travel to schools, parks and churches to provide free immunizations, dental care, health education and other services.
“We look at all the social determinants of health and then go to where the community needs us to be,” says Annet Miranda, associate director of community at Erie. “These communities cannot come to us, so we need to go to them.”
In May, Erie and Northern Illinois Food Bank used a Care Van to reach 850 households at Holy Family Church in Waukegan. A few months earlier, the organizations teamed up for a community health event in Waukegan to provide COVID-19 vaccines and health education resources to more than 650 people.
The added mobility is particularly important as the pandemic pushed Erie health clinics to capacity.
“Even with proper staffing levels, sometimes clinics don’t have the space, so the Care Van can be leveraged as an extra clinic to see patients for a well visit or as a flu shot clinic,” Sloss says.
Both partners are also planning a large-scale screening event in Waukegan, using the new vehicle to spread awareness about colorectal cancer, diabetes and the importance of preventive care.
The event would be one of the largest they’ve held in the city and a prime example of the important relationships the Care Van program has established across the state.
“Even though the Care Van program is not a direct part of Erie, we view the service as an extension of us and we are an extension of them,” Miranda says. “It’s really important to work as a team to serve the community.”