Moving the Needle

Montana Care Van program logs 18,000 miles, administers 3,100 vaccines in 2016.

Cautiously, a third-grade student in Stanford climbs the stairs and nervously enters the Care Van®, where she is greeted by Central Montana Health District (CMHD) nurse Heather Thom. With a flu shot moments away, the little girl’s anxiety is understandable. But with a little help from a stuffed Olaf and the gentle touch of Thom, the third-grader leaves the van with a smile, a lollipop and a pink adhesive bandage on her arm as she heads back to class. More importantly, she leaves with a leg up on staying healthy this flu season.

Care Van’s time in Stanford was part of a two-day swing through a pair of counties that marked the beginning of flu shot season for the program. Eight stops and more than 300 miles later, the Central Montana Health District was added to the growing list of program partners utilizing the Care Van.

“The Care Van program worked extremely well for us,” Thom said. “We often travel to several locations for clinics in one day and CMHD found the van to be very handy. It was easy to load our supplies into the van, and it provided optimal room for staff and clients, especially at the schools where kids could come out and have privacy.”.

Wrapping up its second full year, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana (BCBSMT) Care Van program continues to impact communities throughout the state by providing no- or low-cost immunizations to patients through partnerships with county health departments and other providers. The Care Van brings services to Montana’s rural and underserved areas, as well as central locations in populated areas.

In 2016, the Care Van covered more than 18,000 miles while partnering with 24 providers, including 21 local county health departments. The constant rolling of the van’s odometer resulted in clinics being held in 70 communities. Eight of those were first-time partnerships, and in total more than 3,100 vaccines were administered across the state. In just 2 1/2 years the program has played an important role in providing more than 7,100 immunizations to Montanans.

It’s a much-needed service for rural communities, where it may take driving 90 minutes to reach the nearest provider. The local clinics provided through Care Van’s public-private partnerships cut down on missed time from work and school.

Convenience is also a strong reason when county health departments decide to partner with Care Van.

“The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Care Van program has been instrumental in improving access to immunizations for many Toole County residents, especially those who live in the outlying areas,” said Kristi Aklestad, director of the Toole County Health Department. “We look forward to working with the program every year.”

For more information on the Care Van program, please visit