Americares medical mobile unit heads to Puerto Rico

STAMFORD — A medical mobile unit deployed after natural disasters has traveled nearly 50,000 miles, and it is not done yet.

Stamford-based Americares announced Tuesday the converted bus will be donated to Puerto Rico, where medical services are still needed months after Hurricane Maria hit in September. The announcement coincided with Giving Tuesday, a global initiative held each year to make charitable donations.

“Giving Tuesday kicks off the giving season, and we’re pleased to give the gift of health to the people of Puerto Rico,” said Jed Selkowitz, Americares chief marketing officer.

The bus started its services in southeastern Connecticut and was moved to Bridgeport from 2003 to 2007. In 2005, the bus went to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“There were doctors there, but everything was closed,” said Karen Gottlieb, executive director of Americares free clinics. “There were first responders coming in who hadn’t had tetanus shots, people cleaning up that got cuts that needed medical attention. ... So being able to provide care to people who needed it, I’m sure kept a lot of people out of the hospital.”

The bus was most recently on the road for 95 days after Superstorm Sandy, stopping at five medical facilities throughout New York City and the Far Rockaway area of Queens.

While in the Rockaways, Kate Dischino, Americares director of emergency response, said a man survived a heart attack after approaching the bus because of the swift action by the medical staff on board.

The bus is parked outside medical facilities where staff members help patients who do not have access to medical services.

In Puerto Rico, the bus will host the Ponce Medical School Foundation, which works with other health facilities in the area.

In addition to primary medical care, the bus offers mental health services, which Dischino said are just as important for natural disaster survivors.

“There are separate spaces for consultations,” she said. “The mental health concerns are significant, in regards to what people went through as well as the fear of it happening again.”

The bus will depart for its long journey in December, although a specific date has not been set.