A visit to B.C. Mobile Medical Unit

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Peter Hennecke and Jay Francescutti thought they’d died and gone to heaven when they laid eyes on the McArthur Island parking lot.

To you and me, it’s an expanse of asphalt, a place to put the car when we visit the McArthur Island Sports and Events Centre. To them, it’s the best place they’ve seen in a long time to park the two big honking trucks that form B.C.’s Mobile Medical Unit, which is in Kamloops today and tomorrow.

I got a tour of the unit today as a TNRD Director, since regional district directors also serve on the regional hospital board. Along with a reporter from KamloopsBCNow, I got a briefing on how the unit operates.

It’s impressive, and big, as vehicles go. The support vehicle, used for storing everything from walkie talkies to generators and medical supplies, plus a lot of the equipment that has to be moved out of the clinical unit during travel, was designed as a NASCAR trailer for racing cars, but plans changed and it was scooped by the 2010 Olympics Committee for its current use.

The clinic unit’s travelling length is 53 ft., expanding to 130 ft. With bumpouts on both sides, it expands to about 30 ft. wide and can hold up to 11 beds and an operating room.

As facilities manager, Francescutti’s job is to make sure the big rigs can get to where need to get to, have all the supplies they need, and don’t break down. That involves a lot of planning, including scouting trips to each location. Sometimes, there are a lot of tight corners for the two contracted truck drivers to navigate, and parking locations that weren’t meant for equipment this size.

“People don’t always appreciate just how big these vehicles are,” he said.

He described one adventure on a trip to Bella Bella when the height of the B.C. Ferries landing ramp was affected by the tide, and the big trucks were scraping bottom trying to get onto solid land. It took a lot of maneuvering and ingenuity to get it of the ship.

When travelling, Francescutti’s home is often a small sleeping corner of the support truck, with his faithful pooch Ricky Bobby, who on this day was comfortably ensconced on the couch.

The medical unit takes a few hours to set up, and can run from available onsite power or be self-sufficient on its own fuel.

Hennecke, the clinical operations director, described the capabilities of the clinic, which range from temporary ER when hospital wards are being renovated, to training unit, to specialty medical clinics (it’s hosting a CF clinic on Friday) to disaster treatment centre.

While the unit hasn’t yet been called into operation for a wildfire emergency, it could be in future — a possibility that seems to be increasing with this year’s raging wildfire season.

It is, as they describe it, a high-tech hospital on wheels. It was deployed, for example, to last year’s Boonstock Music and Arts Festival in Penticton as backup to the hospital there. Earlier this year, it was at the Canada Winter Games in Prince George to attend to the need of athletes.

Medical staffing varies, sometimes coming from the hospitals it assists, or from physicians assembled when the unit is on its own.

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