Talent touts transportation bonds, mobile health unit

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- U.S. Sen. Jim Talent made a swing through Southeast Missouri Monday on a dual mission -- to reignite his plan for improving roads by issuing transportation bonds and to announce a $650,000 appropriation that will create a mobile health unit intended to improve access to health care in the Bootheel.

Talent, R-Mo., first spoke at the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission Legislators Luncheon in Perryville before traveling to Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau to announce the money for the health unit.

He told area legislators and economic development officials at the Perryville meeting that he plans to "come back with full force" on his legislation that would create a new bond program and generate $50 billion to help mend the country's ailing transportation system.

"We have an enormous transportation deficit in this country," Talent said. "There are 42,000 deaths on our nation's highways. We could save 12,000 lives each year if our roads were improved."

Talent first proposed his Build America Bond Act in 2003, but he said resistance in Washington led to filibusters and later defeat. Opponents cited the deficit as a reason to not issue bonds, which eventually have to be paid back.

"The federal government has done bonds on other things but not transportation," Talent said. "It's like walking into your home and seeing it has a hole in the roof. But if you don't fix it, it's going to get worse. If you wait, it will probably cost you more than if you had taken care of the problem when you had the chance."

Talent said bonds are a way to raise money for cash-strapped states and cities that would be separate from the multiyear federal highway bill. The money could be used for roads, rail lines, river ports and other transit systems.

He said it would also spur the economy with the creation of jobs to do the improvements.

Later, Talent was on the Southeast campus to announce a federal appropriation to establish a mobile health unit to serve Missouri residents, using $650,000 in the new federal budget authorized by Congress in November. The new unit will be run by Southeast's College of Health and Human Services.

The project calls for establishing a mobile health unit that will travel to Mississippi, Pemiscot, New Madrid and Dunklin counties. The unit will provide health-care screenings for diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure, speech and hearing and vision.

Other assessments will include nutritional and pediatric assessments and well baby screenings. The unit's staff -- an interdisciplinary team of Southeast staff, faculty and students -- will provide referrals to social service agencies.

Southeast president Dr. Ken Dobbins said the university is looking forward to teaming up with health-care providers and other agencies in the Bootheel.

"What we are celebrating today is the most exciting thing we've had going on at Southeast Missouri State University for years," he said.

Dr. Loretta Prater, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, said the unit will be similar in size to the university's new mobile museum. The mobile health unit could be up and running as early as next fall.

Prater said it hoped it will bridge the gap of access to health care.

"Many rural residents do not have the transportation to travel to places to receive health services," she said.

Talent secured the funding in the fiscal 2005 spending package. He said the key to the program is getting health care to the communities. But what drew him to the program was that it also helps inform those in the community.

"It gives them information," he said. "That's what this program does. ... It wasn't hard to get Congress on board. They saw that it could be a model for other programs like this in the country."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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