STARKVILLE — There’s a new vehicle in town, and its purpose is as unique as its interior.
The Longitudinal Rural Risk Study Mobile Unit, RURAL, arrived in Oktibbeha County in late November and began accepting patients for the study the week of December 5.
It could be here by mid-summer.
The mobile review unit, set up at OCH Regional Medical Center, is a 53-foot-long gooseneck trailer that contains medical equipment to perform CT scans, electrocardiograms and other lab work, said Mississippi RURAL study principal investigator Dr. r Erwin Fox.
“The goal of the mobile exam unit is to build a great, critical overall clinical assessment of the passers,” Fox said. “They check their blood for cholesterol and glucose. They also get urine samples to see if there is protein in the urine. … They, of course, measure your blood pressure and weight and scan your heart to see how it’s functioning, what the structure of the heart is, how the heart valves are moving.”
The RURAL study is a five-year national study that began in 2019 and is funded by the National Institutes of Health. It aims to better understand why people living in rural areas suffer from heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders more than those living in urban areas.
The Mobile Exam Unit will visit 10 counties in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Kentucky, seeking a total of 4,600 participants. Two counties in Mississippi were tested for the study: Oktibbeha and Panola.
Fox said the survey ideally wants 718 participants from Octibeha County and 617 from Panola County. Participants of all races, ethnicities, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds are welcome, but they must be ages 25-64 and have been residents of Oktibbeha County for at least two years.
Jackie Ellis, a member of the Octibeha County Community Advisory Board, said mailings and calls throughout the county began around Oct. 17 and meetings are currently scheduled through mid-January. Interested parties can also visit RURALStudy.org to register.
More than 230 participants are already planned, Fox said. While 718 is the priority, he said the survey welcomes more than that for a sample representative of the county’s population.
“They try to (see) about five to six at least a day,” Fox said. “So they could be there by July. If the unit continues to operate at full capacity and everyone who signs up and is scheduled to come actually gets in, they do expect to be there until July, but that will be the earliest they will leave because they really want to take 718 participants. ”
Visibility in front of the OCH Regional Medical Center parking lot off Hospital Road was a key factor in locating the unit there, Fox said. The site will be useful for providing utilities and shelter in case of inclement weather. It is also optimal in case of a medical emergency.
“It’s nice to be in a very visible place where people are moving around a lot,” Fox said. “OCH pretty much checks all the boxes. There is very easy access to electricity, wifi and water. There is plenty of room for the 53-foot mobile exam rig. It’s just a very visible place where people walk by a lot.”
The exams take about three hours and include a blood pressure check, blood count, EKG, ultrasound of the heart, and a CT scan of the heart and lungs. Participants will also receive a FitBit bracelet and cell phone for six months to learn more about how diet, exercise and sleep contribute to health. At the end of the study, participants will hand in their cell phone, but Fox said they can keep the FitBits.
After participants are screened, they will receive a summary report of their comprehensive exam for their own benefit and give it to their primary care physicians in case there are any underlying issues that need to be addressed, Fox said.
Once the initial research is complete, the findings will be shared with county stakeholders to develop policies, if needed, for the health of the area.
“In addition to just helping the individual, it’s going to help the community,” Fox said. “You get a summary report of all of that and it’s shared with stakeholders and partners in the county so they can think about different policies or interventions that can help improve things in their community. And of course, this is a national study, so these findings in the four states will allow them to get more interventions or policies at the national level based on the study findings.
Octibeha County is the mobile unit’s first stop in Mississippi and will move to Panola County next. He just graduated from Alabama and will be heading to Louisiana after his studies in Mississippi are over.
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for just $2.30 per week to support local journalism and our community.