Teen Van Brings Health and Hope during COVID-19

Teen Van staff during COVID

For more than two decades, the Stanford Medicine Children’s Health Teen Van has been a vital resource for underserved youth across the Bay Area. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has stepped up in an even bigger way—providing testing, food and supplies for local families, many of whom live in communities hit hardest by the virus.

Launched in 1996 by Seth Ammerman, MD, the Teen Van was one of the first mobile clinics in the nation specifically created to provide care free of charge for uninsured or homeless youth. Today, the Van is run by Arash Anoshiravani, MD, who once completed an adolescent medicine fellowship under now-retired Ammerman, along with a nurse practitioner, a social worker, a dietician, and a registrar/driver. The Van travels to nine sites across Santa Clara and San Mateo County, including local high schools and youth centers, providing no-cost vaccines, mental health care, contraceptives, physical exams, nutritional counseling and more to patients ages 10 to 25. Since its inception, there have been more than 15,000 visits to the Teen Van, with more than 4,500 unique patients served, about 40 percent of whom are homeless or have been homeless in the past year.

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the Bay Area, Dr. Anoshiravani knew his patients and their families would be particularly at risk for the virus, as well as its economic, emotional and physical repercussions. He reached out to the community to gather support for bringing COVID-19 testing to the Teen Van along with additional food assistance, toiletries and facemasks.

“We saw that young people and their families who were uninsured, housing insecure, and residing in underserved communities of color throughout the Bay Area were getting hit particularly hard,” Anoshiravani says. “­The support for our efforts to not only address their health and testing needs, but also their food and financial needs, has been incredible!”

Within a matter of weeks, donors to the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health stepped forward to fully cover the first eight weeks of testing, which started in June. The Teen Van was also able to provide a care package of nonperishable food to each patient who visited the Van.

The Teen Van team incorporated new ways of engaging and serving patients even before the pandemic started. “We know the Van itself is an amazing way to meet our patients where they are,” explains Anoshiravani. “But we also saw that we could do more, incorporating new technologies like telehealth visits so patients could access our services in an even timelier manner.”

With the pandemic showing little sign of abating soon, the team hopes to provide COVID-19 testing throughout the fall and winter.

“Th­is fall and winter will likely be critical times for learning how we can get back to some kind of normal before a vaccine becomes available,” says Anoshiravani. “Th­e Teen Van will continue to be a uniquely flexible and effective resource for our patients, their communities, and the Bay Area as a whole as we navigate through the school year.”

Caring for patients in unique ways during the pandemic is representative of the mainstay the Van has become in the lives of thousands of young people in the Bay Area.

“­The Teen Van has made a real difference in the lives and health of a generation of young people. It has served as a bridge helping youth and young adults going through tough times to get to the other side, to a healthy adult life. ­That is what we are about, and that is what our team is committed to continue doing,” says Anoshiravani.

This program is possible thanks to the community’s support. To find out how you can help keep the Teen Van on the road, visit supportLPCH.org.


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