NORMAN, OKLA. – Faculty and students in the Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma partnered with the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes to develop a mobile medical unit to meet the needs of rural tribe members. The project is led by Bryan Bloom, an assistant professor in the Haskell and Irene Lemon Construction Science Division, and supported by assistant professor Ken Marold from the Division of Architecture.

The medical unit is composed of multiple pre-cut, prepared materials and designed to allow for “ease-of-construction” for those who may not have all the tools or experience for a traditional build. This design helps to decrease some of the barriers associated with construction for future builds.

Jesse E. Jones, executive director of the Wichita Housing Authority, said the mobile medical unit will enable Indian Health Services to take services to rural tribal members who have a difficult time getting to and from the health clinic.

“We have been very optimistic on the mobile clinic, as this is a new avenue to help out our tribal members and other Natives in the surrounding rural areas,” Jones said. “Many of our rural Native people don’t have the ability to travel distances to get to Indian Health Services, which is a hinderance to them and jeopardizes their health and longevity of living. If we can help those that need access to Indian Health Services in the rural areas, then we have performed a great improvement upon their lives and the family members that depend on them.”

Lancer Stephens, Ph.D. (Wichita/Creek), an associate professor in the Hudson College of Public Health at the University of Oklahoma, said the mobile clinic provides the tribe a resource for emergency medical care as well as routine and preventive health care.

“If there’s one thing the past 16 months has taught us, it is to prepare for the unexpected,” Stephens said. “While we never hope for there to be another epidemic or disaster in the communities of Anadarko and surrounding rural areas, there is a possibility for natural disasters such as wildfires and tornados. … Given the mobile clinic’s multipurpose blueprint, food and water distribution, cooling stations, well-checks, vaccinations and other outreach opportunities will now be a reality and the tribe will be in a better position to offer assistance in times of need.”

The mobile medical unit is the result of a community engagement project. OU’s community engagement initiative provides opportunities for civic engagement and leadership development for OU students, faculty and community members. Community engagement projects partner the resources and expertise of the university with the knowledge and assets of diverse communities.

At OU, Marold conceptualized and designed the medical unit. He also created a fabrication strategy for building the unit quickly. Bloom engaged with tribal representatives in programming and oversaw construction, guiding students enrolled in his spring 2021 “Design + Build” class in crafting the unit. Materials were donated by Patriot Roofing, Cover Your Pergola of OKC, and Trailer Made Trailers of Colorado.

Bloom said, “One of the things I try to convey to the students is, no matter how routine or unique the project is, that part of our job is to collaborate with the designer – to offer some practical field knowledge of how materials attach to each other, how to best sequence the work, how to keep weather out. So, on this project, I’ve found that coupling that awareness with digital design and fabrication really broadens the lens of our capabilities as builders.”

Construction science senior Asael Herrara said of the experience, “I wanted to take this class to have the opportunity to give back to the community. I didn’t know it would be a medical mobile unit, but it’s amazing to give back to our community in this way. This is a great experience because there are people learning and teaching across a variety of construction backgrounds.”

Ben Bigelow, director of OU’s construction science department, said, “Anytime we can engage the students and get their hands on a real project, it is a real differentiator. It better prepares the students for their careers.”

“When we can combine that real project experience with service to something bigger, it goes to another level,” he added. “The Wichita Housing Authority has been an awesome partner and I am just so proud of what Bryan Bloom and his students have accomplished. Great partners, and great faculty made this possible.”

The mobile medical unit was delivered to Anadarko, Oklahoma, by Bloom and his team on June 30. The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes will use the trailer to provide service to tribal members in southern and southwestern Oklahoma.

“I’ve been very fortunate to see this project come to fruition from both sides, the university side as an employee and the Wichita side as an enrolled member,” Stephens said. “Additionally, I appreciated the opportunity to speak with the students that working on the project … and share some of the rich cultural history of the Wichita tribe as well as the many tribal nations of Oklahoma. I believe it helped the students in understanding that this wasn’t just a project for a grade, but a real opportunity for them to take part in something that was going to provide years of service and make a real difference to a community. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any tribe to look at a partnership opportunity with OU Construction Sciences as this has been a blessing to witness.

About the University of Oklahoma: Founded in 1890, the University of Oklahoma is a public research university located in Norman, Oklahoma. OU serves the educational, cultural, economic and health care needs of the state, region and nation. For more information visit www.ou.edu.

About the project; interview information: For more information or interviews regarding the project, please contact Angela M. Person at a@ou.edu

Photos and B-Roll: Photos and video of the mobile medical unit are available via Dropbox. https://bit.ly/CoAmedia