Mayo mobile clinic brings health care to rural communities
Blooming Prairie and Kenyon are part of the regular route for the mobile clinic
BLOOMING PRAIRIE — Rita Millam was more than satisfied with her care.
"Anything I was addressing today, they handled it," Millam said.
Millam, a resident of Blooming Prairie, had booked an appointment Tuesday in the Mayo Clinic Health System Mobile Health Clinic, a 39-foot Winnebago outfitted with two examination rooms, a laboratory, medical-grade freezer and refrigerator units, satellite communications systems complete with mobile hotspot, and more.
The mobile unit is a response to Mayo Clinic's need to close brick-and-mortar clinics in several communities in southern Minnesota.
"We have one mobile clinic right now," said Dr. Robert Albright, regional vice president, Southeast Minnesota region of Mayo Clinic Health System. The program was conceived of in late 2020, and the clinic was on the road by June 2021.
"We're open four days a week, and we share this (mobile clinic) with our colleagues in southwest Minnesota."
Each week, the clinic spends two days each in Kenyon and Blooming Prairie in Southeast Minnesota, then goes to Southwest Minnesota for two days each in Sherburn and Butterfield.
The clinic recently passed its 10,000th mile on the road and its 1,000th visitor, Albright said.
"We're looking to see if we can demonstrate the use for this," Albright said. "I would love to see us have a fleet of these."
Delivering health care to rural communities can be difficult, he said. Mobile clinics bring primary care to those cities where having a permanent clinic does not make financial sense.
Furthermore, when the mobile clinic comes to town, patients who have telemedicine appointments can use the clinic's internet connection as a wifi hotspot, which is necessary in communities that often have slow internet speeds.
The internet connection means patients no longer need to take their appointments at the public library in order to have a solid wifi signal.
Albright said the mobile clinics not only bring clinical care to these communities but expand access to the communities for research through the lab facilities.
"It can be a barrier (for patients) to travel and get blood work done," he said. "This allows us to do community-based cancer studies and expand our research footprint."
Emily Majerus, a physician's assistant who staffs the clinic when it visits Blooming Prairie, said the clinic has steadily had more and more patients during the eight months it has been open.
"I do have some regulars," Majerus said. "When people call in for appointments from these ZIP codes, they're offered to come here first."
One of the big benefits for the community, Majerus said, is being able to bring clinical care to the elderly residents of the cities rather than make them drive to Austin, Owatonna or even Rochester for basic appointments.
"We have elderly patients who have mobility concerns and transportation concerns," Majerus said. "And we're here meeting their needs."
Albright said patients sit in their cars and get a text message when their appointment begins. From there, they are ushered to one of the two exam rooms where staff can handle the patient's needs or, if a consultation is needed, they can connect to a doctor.
Furthermore, based on the needs of the patients' appointments, the mobile clinic can add a physician on the staff for a day if needed, he said.
Millam said she often went to the clinic on Main Street in Blooming Prairie before it was closed, but the mobile clinic has everything needed for a primary care appointment.
She needs an x-ray in Austin, she said, and in two weeks when the clinic returns to town, she'll come back for lab tests followed by a second appointment two days later to go over her medications.
On a snowy, blowy day Tuesday, Millam said she was impressed they had come, not canceling or rescheduling her appointment.
"It's really nice," Millam said. "I was so glad to hear they were coming back to town."