The unit is based on a conventional semi tractor-trailer unit, and expands into a small but fully functional hospital. It's meant to serve patients at the scene of large incidents, like forest fires or floods, or in case a small regional hospital can't take patients.
Dr. John Hick, medical director for the office of emergency preparedness with the Minnesota Department of Health, helped set up the unit. He says health planners realized last year they needed better portable medical care.
"We recognized through a couple of events -- one being the flooding in southeast Minnesota, which really isolated Rushford in particular, and which was a community which did not have probably adequate support for its medical needs in the aftermath of the flooding because they were so isolated," Hick said. "There were a fair number of dangers there. We had a lot of bee stings that resulted in severe allergic reactions."
Hick also cited recent fires in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which threatened to force the evacuation of the Grand Marais hospital. That would have left much of Minnesota's Arrowhead region without an emergency hospital.
The state decided to build what amounts to a portable hospital. Other regions in the country have opted for tent-based facilities, but Minnesota officials say that wouldn't work with Minnesota's weather.
"We needed something we could close in and heat," Hick said.
The mobile medical unit has six regular care beds and two critical care beds. It was actually tested in downtown St. Paul during the Republican National Convention. The MMU provided quick on-site medical care for law enforcement, meant to get them back to duty quickly.
The unit isn't meant to take the place of a regular large hospital, like Hennepin County Medical Center or St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth. And it's only meant to serve as an emergency department, not as an extended stay facility.
But it can function where regular hospitals can't.
The unit cost $1.6 million to build and equip. It will be based at Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park, which will maintain and house the unit.
It will take about a half dozen people to transport and prepare the unit. It's meant to be staffed by either local medical personnel or by members of the Minnesota Medical Reserve Corps.