Mobile medical unit on the Downtown Eastside to stop taking patients

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Mobile medical unit on the Downtown Eastside to stop taking patients

The mobile medical unit (MMU) on the Downtown Eastside that opened to help relieve overwhelmed emergency responders amid the overdose crisis will stop accepting patients on Monday.

People that would have gone to the facility, essentially a "satellite emergency department," will be directed to nearby clinics instead.

The MMU opened at 58 West Hastings St. in December as an alternative place to take overdose victims — alleviating the burden on paramedics and staff at St. Paul's Hospital.

Around 1,500 people visited the facility in the first two months. Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) said only about 25 per cent went because of an illicit drug overdose, while the rest were there to seek treatment for their addiction.

Since then, the numbers have dropped even further.

Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical heath officer with VCH, said the facility is going to be phased out as a result of the lessened traffic.

"Because of other services in the Downtown Eastside — like [pop-up] overdose sites where people who overdose can be treated right then and there — we've actually had fewer people willing to be transported to the hospital or a medical unit."

Starting Monday, the facility won't be staffed with physicians or nurses anymore. Instead, outreach workers will direct people to nearby drop-in clinics — specifically the Connections Clinic near Oppenheimer Park.

At sites like these, people can drop in and get started on addiction therapies like suboxone and methadone.

There are also five new overdose prevention sites, where drug consumption is supervised, open in the neighbourhood in addition to Insite.

Sarah Blythe, who works with the Overdose Prevention Society, welcomed the move to close the MMU.

"[Clinics] are long-term facilities, so it's a better use of resources," she said.

Earlier this month, VCH said the mobile medical unit had cost about $650,000 to date.

Overdose numbers in B.C. dropped in February, but the B.C. Coroners Service warned the risk is still high.

And in the City of Vancouver, the number of overdose-related deaths continues to rise.

With files from CBC's Farrah Merali