Originally created 02/17/99

State-of-the-art vehicle to give rural health care



CHARLESTON, S.C. -- A new 40-foot van equipped to screen residents for South Carolina's deadliest diseases will head out next week, taking state-of-the-art services to 18 rural and underserved counties.

The Mobile Health Unit, whose tests are designed to detect illness early, aims to provide for people who cannot afford or reach medical care.

"This will let us get a handle on chronic disease," said Dr. Daniel Nixon, associate director for prevention and control at the Medical University of South Carolina's Hollings Cancer Center.

South Carolina is among the top five states in occurrence and death rates for prostate, breast, cervical and esophageal cancer. It stands at or near the top in stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and sickle cell anemia.

The van, whose staff will see about 500 patients a month, will enable professionals to screen for those conditions as well as colorectal and oral cancer.

"This is a turning point in the Medical University of South Carolina's reaching out to people who are underserved in South Carolina," said Dr. Ray Greenberg, MUSC provost.

Services will be free for anyone below poverty level; others will pay on a sliding scale, said Daniel Hoskins, director of the Cancer Prevention and Control Access Network Program at the Hollings center.

"We will turn no one away," he said. And if patients need follow-up treatment, the program will find medical help regardless of their ability to pay, he said.

The key is to prevent rather than just treat disease, said U.S. Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., who helped get a $4.25 million grant for the van from the Defense Department's Office of Naval Research.

A coordinator, a registered nurse, a mammography technician and either a doctor or nurse practitioner will staff the van, which has a wheelchair lift.

The waiting room has educational videos and preventative health care publications, and the women's exam room contains a $76,000 mammography machine. A computer nook will record patient information and connect the van to specialists for telemedicine consultation. And blood test results will be ready within two days, said Lesa Allen-Gaither, mobile unit coordinator.

The Hollings Cancer Center sponsors the mobile project in cooperation with community health centers in Charleston, Conway, Orangeburg and Ridgeland. The hub sites will help coordinate the van schedule.

While the van will travel to communities five days a week, it also can go to health fairs, conferences and churches on weekends, Mr. Hoskins said.