MILNOR, ND – Reese Hogness jumped on the “Sunny the Sunshine bus”, a smile that stretches from ear to ear.
After taking off his shoes, the 10-year-old began practicing what he called a ninja path, first grabbing a plastic handle to swing his legs through the obstacle course. He almost made it without his feet touching the ground.
Bobbie Sunderland and Stacey Reek, both physiotherapists aboard the bus, a mobile therapy unit with Beyond Boundaries Therapy, encouraged him as he attempted a second round.
A year ago, before the Mobile Therapy Unit began touring rural North Dakota, Hogness said he had an anger problem.
“I’d get angry and punch them, now I’m leaving,” Hogness said, without clarifying. “I don’t have my anger problems anymore.”
The idea behind the Mobile Therapy Unit, now nicknamed “Sunny” by children, came from LaDonna Bannach, president and CEO of Beyond Boundaries Therapy, a private occupational therapy that facilitates scheduling for purposeless House of Everyday Learning. for profit.
The two Fargo-based therapy and screening programs started the effort because they heard from rural parents that the drive to Fargo for dating was a hindrance due to the additional expense and time away from work and school.
Although Bannach has had a vision of a mobile unit for years, the coronavirus pandemic helped spur the idea into action during the summer of 2021, he said.
The mobile therapy unit is a state-of-the-art mobile sensory / motor gym that guides disadvantaged communities to help and is the only mobile therapy unit in the Midwest, Bannach said.
Now, just a year later, last June, Beyond Therapy Services and the House of Everyday Learning received an Outstanding Rural Health Program Award for their healthcare initiatives.
Within five months of the operation, the Mobile Therapy Unit examined 112 children. Since then, they’ve screened dozens more and are planning to grow, Reek said.
“The vision was one thing, but it took a village to make it happen,” Bannach said. “We hope to continue for years and expand”.
Bannach grew up in a rural area and has seen services such as therapy disappear over the years.
“When I became a therapist I saw that the need was so great in rural areas, so breaking down barriers is our vision, mission and goal to provide help to anyone who needs it,” said Bannach.
Medical examinations are free and treatment payments are processed with insurance companies. If a family doesn’t have adequate insurance, there are options, Bannach said.
The unit’s goal is to reduce barriers for families in rural areas who find it difficult to welcome children for specialist care. The unit began checking hundreds of people in the Milnor and Leeds area and beyond, and now drives once a week to Milnor, treating 25 children under the age of 18.
In a way, the mobile unit is a throwback to more than a century ago, not including the 300 horsepower, when doctors traveled from town to town looking for clients to help, Reek said.
“We were able to break down the barriers, otherwise, I don’t know if we would ever see these babies in the clinic,” Sunderland said.
While Sunderland continued to work on balance skills with Hogness, Reek typed on a computer in a small cubicle behind the driver’s seat. The vehicle, which resembles an old school bus, is spacious enough to accommodate the tools and toys needed to help the children.
“In a way, there is a health desert in rural areas. I wouldn’t call it a crisis, but with our presence we’ve been able to reach the children we wouldn’t have been able to reach, and their lives are a little better, “Sunderland said.
In addition to helping individual children, Reek and Sunderland are partnering with rural schools, daycare centers and teachers to help the continuing development of children with physical or cognitive problems.
When Hogness finished the obstacle course, he was asked, “How is this therapy?”
It took a moment to think about his answer, before pointing to the therapists, “Umm, you.”