Mobile health care helping rural communities

STANTON, IA (WOWT) - With rural hospitals closing nationwide limiting people's access to doctors in their area, Montgomery County Memorial Hospital is trying to change that with Heartland Mobile Health.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found death rates have jumped 5.9% from 1995-2011 due to the closing of hospitals in rural areas.

"We are the safety net for our population," Ron Kloewer, the chief information officer for the hospital explained. "Without rural health care, there is an increase in mortality."

Navigant, a consultancy firm, believes it could get worse. They say 430 rural hospitals are currently at risk of closing, largely because of finances.

"The struggle that we face is really the demographic that we are serving," Kloewer said. "It's primarily medicare. And medicare payments, while we appreciate them a great deal, they are not quite on par with commercial payments."

Forcing Montgomery County Memorial Hospital to get innovative and make up those funds with programs like Heartland Mobile Health.

The mobile unit allows them to see a greater number of patients, nearly 10,000 since they started in 2014, and brings life-saving care to those who might otherwise not receive it.

Brianna Schaffer, the mobile units nurse practitioner works closely alongside her registered nurse counterpart, Katie Bayles -- literally and figuratively.

They see some patients fairly regularly and are able to build a relationship with them.

At the same time, they're providing much needed medical care.

"The provider prior to me had an instance with an actual heart attack on here and he came back and thanked her because it did save his life," Schaffer said.

The truck is split into several sections that mirror a condensed doctor's office with patient intake and a lab.

"We do several blood draws that we either freeze or keep in cool storage until we can return it to the MCMH lab," Bayles explained.

And they have an exam room fit with a motorized chair that flattens and raises into a table -- an effort to save space so the team can save lives in rural Iowa.

The truck serves Essex, Stanton, Elliott, Emerson and Red Oak four days a week.

The idea was formed to help four primary groups of people; those without transportation to get to a regular hospital, those needing to come during non-traditional hours, those in underserved communities, and those who don't like the traditional healthcare setting.

They also utilize telehealth technology to communicate with specialists at their base hospital and Nebraska medicine.