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October 16, 2012

Walton firm aids rural health care in Ghana

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — A Delaware County company rolled out two mobile medical units on Monday that are destined to ply the back roads of Ghana, providing health care to its underserved residents.

The units are part of an order that NorthEast Fabricators of Walton is building for Odulair Inc. of Wyoming, itself a subcontractor for Belstar Development of Miami, which has been hired by the government the West African nation to overhaul its medical system.

It marked a new direction for NorthEast, which has been building boxes for truck or trailer chassis since 1997.

“We’ve never done all the finish work,” owner Bill Brodeur said Monday. “We built the basic box, unpainted, with nothing in it.”

“All the interior, all the finish work, we did this for the first time,” he said. “It’s never been done here before. The guys collectively did a great job putting this whole thing together. … It amazed me, just watching them do it.”

The mobile medical units are the first two of eight NorthEast is building for Odulair. The two delivered to Odulair on Monday were standard doctor’s examining rooms. Of the remaining six, two will serve as dental clinics, two will specialize in ophthalmology and two will be ear, nose and throat clinics, with an emphasis on audiology.

The units are mounted on Ford F-550 super duty, four-wheel-drive chassis that Odulair has had lengthened to accommodate the boxes. The four-wheel-drive is necessary to navigate rural road, because “African potholes can eat cars,” said Anita Chambers, Odulair’s founder and president. The vehicles also have engines that can burn low- and high-sulfur diesel fuel, which is the norm in Africa, Chambers said.

“This is part of a huge project,” Chambers said. “The entire medical infrastructure is being upgraded.”

As part of that, Chambers said, the government of Ghana decided to try a pilot project to provide medical care to remote villages via the mobile units.

“So, instead of the villagers not being able to get medical care or having to find some transportation to the local city – which they can’t – (the Health Ministry) will take the care to the local people,” she said.

Odulair specializes in creating and providing mobile medical units for Africa, South American and even the United States. Two of its mobile operating rooms are used at Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island, Chambers said. But this is the first time Odulair has subcontracted with the Walton company, she said.

“We’re very, very, very happy with them,” she said, adding that Odulair found out about NorthEast from its vice president of operations, who had previously worked for a company that used Brodeur’s firm.

“He said, ‘Let’s try these guys,’ and I’m really glad I did,” she said. “They did a phenomenal job for us.”

Chambers said that Ghana’s Health Ministry required that all of the mobile clinics be built in the United States.

“The were very specific that it had to be U.S. origin,” she said. “They would not take anything from China. They weren’t interested in anything from Asia. … No African country wants anything from Asia. They’ve been burned one too many times.”

The Asian equipment not only breaks down more often, its manufacturers don’t provide the service that U.S. companies do, she said.

Brodeur said NorthEast employs about 35 people, down from the 70 it employed a few years ago, when it was turning out as many as 50 trailers a month for the Pentagon.

But with the U.S. winding down its military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus the economic downturn, NorthEast was looking for new opportunities.

“What we’re hoping is that these folks, at Odulair, now take this and go with it and grow with it,” he said. “I think once (Ghana) gets these units and see what we’ve done, they’re going to be quite happy.”