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MobileOp4 presents new opportunities to rural health

Texas has lost more rural hospitals than any other state in recent years, and many counties lack adequate primary care services. In response to the challenges faced by rural communities and disaster-stricken areas, mobile health clinics are rolling out to provide vital medical services where they're needed most. These clinics could help residents of the Big Country and beyond.

On a recent sweltering day in Abilene, local officials watch as two people assemble what is essentially a mobile health clinic in the parking lot of the West Central Texas Council of Governments in less than 20 minutes. Once the structure is built, leaders from across the big country file into the unit for a sales pitch and much-needed AC.

The idea for Mobile Op4 units was born in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as a way to respond to emergency challenges. Mobile health clinics aren’t exactly new, but this particular model is unique because it unfolds from a compact 2 1/2 feet into a structure that can withstand hurricane-force winds while serving as everything from a medical care facility to a command center to temporary housing. My main problem is always real estate. Where do you actually set up at and have something set up so these units take up only about two and a half feet and they’re folded up so I’ll take up any real estate but when you need them to fold back out,” said Ric Pearson, head of design and development at the Dallas based Mobile Op4.

Pearson says that the units are made out of recycled material and can be customized to each customer's needs. MobleOp4 founder Jeff Blankenship made it clear that these units would augment healthcare services in the communities where they're needed most, not to take away current resources. “Working with the border now and the border patrol's very interested in our models as well not just for isolation rooms or detention or but also, for they can be converted into housing.”

The units can be used in a variety of scenarios, from natural disasters to community events like concerts and fairs. They weigh under 2,000 pounds, allowing for easy towing by regular vehicles, and can function with local power or generators. Already the modules are attracting interest from schools and rural areas lacking adequate medical facilities.

Ted Matthews, interim CEO of Anson General Hospital, said the mobile units could add to the hospital’s existing services. “We have clinics there and we have our emergency room there, but I could see on a countywide basis or perhaps even a community-wide basis where two or three entities could go in and if we reach a point where we need that rapid response, we could tame up both from the hospital as well as where the incident took place out there and set this up shortly.”

Mobile Op4 is even working with companies like Samsung that are rethinking health care. Jeff Blankenship says, "Samsung is developing hospitals of the future with their technology or TVs so we’re very actively involved with different other companies that are revolutionizing hospital to the home” The issue of needing better preventative measures and more state support for rural healthcare remains a problem, but it seems to be getting better thanks to ideas like Moble OP4.