TOLEDO, OH (November 12, 2010) – When residents of inner city Toledo wait for a bus, they increasingly are looking for “Buszilla,” a purple monster of a vehicle that is saving lives.
The bus serves as a mobile medical unit that brings primarily preventative care to people who are homeless or are uninsured. Lifeline Toledo, a ministry to the poor and homeless of Toledo, operates the bus. Steve North, associate pastor at New Harvest Christian Church, an Evangelical Covenant Church, started the ministry. Many of the Lifeline volunteers are members of New Harvest. Click here to visit the Lifeline Facebook page.
Every Saturday morning, several volunteer nurses serve people through general health screens, such as blood pressure checks, blood sugar checks, and listening to hearts and lungs. Since the bus was placed into service in October 2009, hundreds of people have been spared imminent death or health-related disasters.
“It seems like such a simple thing to check blood sugar and blood pressure, but these are things we can do,” says North.
About once a month, the bus brings the Black Bag Project (BBP) to the people. On those days a doctor, pharmacist, University of Toledo medical students, and nurses of the Neighborhood Health Association and Mildred Bayer Clinic for the Homeless bring additional care.
Triage operations are conducted outside the door of the bus, medical students interview patients to construct a complete medical history, the physician conducts a complete physical exam and writes prescriptions where they are warranted, and the pharmacist calls the scripts to the pharmacy at St. Vincent Mercy Hospital. The medications are in the patient’s hands before they leave the site.
Stories like David’s are not unusual. He came to the bus complaining of chest pains. After listening to his chest, the nurse believed he might have pneumonia. Another volunteer with Lifeline drove him to the hospital where the diagnosis was confirmed.
He was admitted to the hospital and was treated.
Two weeks later, he interrupted a television news interview with North on a downtown street. He felt it important to publicly say, “I just wanted to come back down here and thank you all for saving my life.”
North notes that he didn’t have to recruit volunteers to work on the bus. “They came to us.”
Buszilla is set up next to the main Toledo library alongside another bus ministry, which was started by New Harvest, Food for Thought. That ministry distributes hundreds of sandwiches as well as other items each Saturday.
“There are a couple hundred people already there, so it makes sense to do it that way,” says North.
The bus also provides care to a migrant workers camp and a riverside tent city. “The purple bus means hope,” North says.
Lifeline has pressed the bus into other service as well. Starting the morning after a tornado, the organization used the vehicle to transport hundreds of people from the Toledo area to help clean up a home the twister had demolished. For two weeks, the bus transported people to various locations to help with cleanup. The Food for Thought bus also was a first-responder and distributed food and water to people whose homes were lost and damaged.
North laughs when asked about why New Harvest supports two unusual bus ministries. “They just want to do what it takes to serve people,” he says.
Lifeline recently needed its own assistance with the bus. Already on its third life – the bus previously was a 72- passenger bus transporting children to school and later used to drive missionaries in Mexico – it broke down in September.
The bus threw a rod and heavily damaged the engine. Repairs would have cost thousands of dollars. BUSES International, which donated the first bus, donated a second bus to replace it.
Since 1988, BUSES International has been converting buses, box trucks and trailers into mobile medical and dental clinics, as well as food distribution vehicles, shower facilities, classrooms and other mobile outreach centers.
Lifeline is in discussion with BUSES to acquire a mobile dental unit. Many of the area residents have to go without dental care because it is unavailable to them, North says.