A big sign on the side of this Winnebago tells you its not Grandma and Grandpa on their way to Arizona. “Missouri Mobile Health,” the bold letters declare.
Inside, faculty and students from MU’s School of Health Professions are on their way to rural Missouri to provide free, preventive health care to the underinsured.
Now in its second year, it offers testing for osteoporosis, ultrasound scanning for stroke prevention and pulmonary screening to test for respiratory illnesses. Other services include stop-smoking counseling and follow-up counseling for osteoporosis and nutrition.
Missouri Mobile Health is an attempt to bring the clinic to the people to identify chronic illness early, when treatment could do the most good, said Terri Dobey, an MU clinical instructor for respiratory therapy who conducts pulmonary screening for Mobile Health.
Michael Prewitt, project leader and associate vice provost for undergraduate studies at MU, said taking preventive measures in a health care regimen often becomes out of the question for many rural residents — largely because they don’t have adequate insurance and they can’t get to services, which tend to be in urban areas.
“The health disparities are well researched and well documented in rural communities because of their barriers to health care,” Prewitt said. “They don’t have services available, particularly preventative services.”
Through grants from the Missouri Foundation for Health, Mobile Health is able to reach out to people in more than 20 counties in the northeast part of the state.
Although many health service providers use recreational vehicles to bring services to areas lacking them, the unique aspect of Missouri Mobile Health is its link to the curriculum at the School of Health Professions. Students get hands-on training outside hospitals and learn ways to provide preventive services.
“It’s the only unit I know of in the state that is university operated and uses university faculty to provide the services and education piece,” Dobey said. “I’m not aware of any other university or organization that is providing services the way we do.”
Prewitt said providing service to rural communities is a large part of the school’s mission. He said he hopes Mobile Health opens students’ eyes to the importance of health care professions in rural communities.
The project seeks first to provide screening, then to promote follow-up care at family clinics and finally to educate patients about handling their illnesses through a chronic disease management course.
Missouri Mobile Health also performs some services on behalf of medical institutions. On Tuesday, the Winnebago pulled into the parking lot at Cooper County Memorial Hospital in Boonville to provide DEXA bone mineral density testing — mainly to check for osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones.
Pat Tew, program director of radiography at MU who administered the bone density tests, explained that people who live in rural areas often don’t want to drive to cities like Columbia to get such tests — thus leaving medical conditions untreated.
Boonville resident Jean Bruce said stopping at the Winnebago for a bone density test was convenient and saved her a trip to Columbia.
“I would say that it is very accommodating to people here in Cooper County,” she said.