Responding to rising levels of homelessness and poor access to health care among the North County's neediest residents, the El Camino Healthcare District has approved more than $1.3 million in grants this year to fund mobile health services including primary and mental health care in Mountain View and Sunnyvale.
The $7 million Community Benefit Program, which the district's board of directors approved last month, is designed to fill unmet health needs within the district, which includes Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and portions of Santa Clara and Cupertino.
The program has a long history of funding school nurses, mental health counselors and nutrition programs aimed at reducing hypertension and diabetes. But over the last two years, it has poured more and more money into health services on wheels -- mobile services that can hit the road and go from one location to the next bringing health care directly to low-income and homeless residents.
The district's largest allocation this year is a $1 million grant to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center to bring the Valley Homeless Healthcare Program's medical mobile unit to key locations in Mountain View and Sunnyvale each week.
The mobile clinic's high-seven-figure cost is due to its unusually high staffing, which includes a physician, nurses, a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a social worker.
The team will carry out physical exams, immunizations, cancer screenings and management of chronic diseases, as well as mental health care and medication management for people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. The mobile clinic's service stops will include Community Services Agency of Mountain View and Los Altos (CSA) and the Sunnyvale cold weather shelter.
"This is a big new project for us," said Barbara Avery, the health care district's community benefits director. "What this is going to be is a very high-level van going around integrating primary care with mental health services."
Other grants for services-on-wheels include $149,000 to Health Mobile, a dental clinic for low-income families in Mountain View and Sunnyvale that performs everything from cleanings to root canals.
Lucile Packard Foundation's Mobile Adolescent Health Services program, better known as TeenVan, also received $92,000 to provide mental health counseling and medical exams at Los Altos and Alta Vista high schools, primarily for homeless and low-income kids.
Both TeenVan and Health Mobile launched programs in Mountain View as new grant recipients last year.
An addition to this year's Community Benefit Program is Meals on Wheels, which provides daily visits and meals to low-income homebound seniors. The $100,000 in grant funding over the next year is expected to provide 100 people with 13,200 meals.
Case workers at CSA and regional homeless advocacy groups say that poverty and "food insecurity" is on the rise among seniors in the Bay Area, particularly those on fixed incomes, making it difficult to meet their daily needs for food, social support and health care.
Avery said Meals on Wheels will also provide essential wellness checkups for residents ages 60 and over who may be socially isolated, and that the 20-minute daily visit also doubles as an important social interaction with health and social service professionals.
"They do a wellness check at every visit. They don't just leave food on the doorstep," she said.
A growing problem
The boost in mobile health services comes at a time when homelessness in the North County has gone from bad to worse. The 2017 Santa Clara County homeless census, which was conducted earlier this year, found that Mountain View's homeless population spiked from 276 in 2015 to 416 this year -- a 51 percent increase in two years, and a 300 percent increase since 2013.
Job loss, eviction and alcohol or drug use are among the leading causes of homelessness in the county, and 62 percent of homeless residents surveyed in the census said the high cost of rent prevents them from securing permanent housing again, according to data collected by the firm Applied Survey Research.
People who are homeless suffer from severe health conditions at a much higher rate, and are less likely to have access to health care. The countywide survey found that 38 percent of homeless residents suffer from a mental health condition, 27 percent have chronic health problems, and 22 percent have post-traumatic stress disorder.
On average, homeless people suffer a higher rate of preventable illness, are hospitalized four more days than the average hospital patient, and experience a 25-year reduction in life expectancy, according to the survey report.
El Camino Healthcare District's $7 million in grant funding is largely guided by the district's Community Health Needs Assessment, a lengthy regional survey that determines what health needs in the area are not met.
The high cost of living and stubborn poverty rate in Santa Clara County were chief among the top health concerns during the 2016 needs assessment, putting housing and economic security in the same league as mental health, cancer and cardiovascular health initiatives.