Mobile unit to provide 'health on wheels' to four counties

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

If residents of the poorest areas in Southeast Missouri can't get to adequate health care, then a new mobile health unit unveiled Monday is intended to take health-care services to them.

The Southeast Health on Wheels Mobile -- or SHOW Mobile -- will be operated and staffed by Southeast Missouri State University health-care professionals. The 38-foot "mobile health center" is actually a high-tech doctor's office inside a converted Airstream RV motorhome.

"Transportation is a big problem in the Bootheel," said Cynthia Dean, CEO of Missouri Bootheel Regional Consortium, a Sikeston, Mo.,-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to reducing infant mortality rates. "This is really a wonderful opportunity to have access to health care."

The unit will travel in the four Bootheel counties of Pemiscot, Dunklin, Mississippi and New Madrid starting today. The mobile center will charge based on a client's ability to pay and accept Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance or no health-care coverage at all. Fees without third-party coverage will be based on a sliding scale.

The vehicle will be staffed by a family nurse practitioner, registered professional nurse driver and local volunteer health-care professionals, said Bobbi Morris, director of the SHOW Mobile and a member of the university's Department of Nursing.

The unit will offer a variety of services including well-child and well-woman exams, dental services and pre-employment and sports physicals, Morris said. The unit will also provide care for acute illnesses, such as ear, skin, urinary tract and sinus infections; care for chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma and high cholesterol, and offer nutrition and dietary assessments, she said.

Another key component to the mobile unit is that it will offer a "tele-health" program, which allows providers on the unit to consult with a physician in real-time on a monitor should a question arise or when a second opinion is requested.

"We'll be able to see the doctor and have real-time interaction," Morris said.

U.S. Sen. Jim Talent and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson attended the ribbon-cutting Monday at the university campus. Both helped secure $650,000 in federal dollars in 2004 to establish the mobile health unit, which is administered by the university's College of Health and Human Services.

"When I saw this proposal, I said 'bingo,'" Talent said. "It focuses on wellness and keeping people healthy as well as curing them. We don't have the resources to simply cure people after they're sick." Talent said he predicts the unit will save lives.

"With problems like hypertension and heart disease, the more preventative we can be, the better," he said.

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