- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Sanford Health is deploying the first of two mobile clinics to boost health care in the western North Dakota oil patch.

The Dakotas-based health network will send the first clinic on wheels into the region in June, providing on-site care for oil workers. The 45-foot-long rig will be staffed by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, a nurse and a driver who also is a medical technician or radiology technician. Sanford also is putting a modular clinic in Watford City.

“We’ll do pre-employment physicals, DOT (Department of Transportation) exams, drug testing. We can do vision, hearing, and lung function testing. We will also provide urgent care services for sore throats, colds, minor emergencies and minor illnesses,” Sanford doctor Joel Blanchard told KXMB-TV.

The clinics also will provide access to telemedicine and make referrals for advanced injuries, the health network said in a statement.

Sanford Health is based in Fargo, North Dakota, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It bills itself as the largest, not-for-profit rural health care system in the nation. The health network is investing $2.7 million in the oil patch project, with annual operating expenses estimated at $4.8 million.

Medical facilities in the oil patch have been struggling to keep up with an increase in patients caused by the oil boom in recent years. The hospital in Watford City estimates that its emergency room visits have increased fivefold since 2006 - from one or two trauma cases per month to one or two per week. Hospitals in Watford City and Stanley are working on multimillion-dollar upgrades.