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Free clinic opening in less than a month

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Low-income, uninsured residents of Pierce and St. Croix counties will soon have a place to be treated for many of their basic medical needs.

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Opening night is set for Tuesday, April 24, in River Falls. Planning has gone on for more than a year.

A board of directors now meets regularly, and two part-time, highly qualified professionals are at work to organize, staff, supply and manage clinic operations.

Mary Steele of River Falls is volunteer coordinator.

Linda Robertson of the town of Hudson is the clinic manager. Robertson and her husband, Warren Schneider, an administrator at 3M in St. Paul, have lived in the town of Hudson since 2004. Their daughter, Lindsay, is a junior at Colgate University in New York.

Robertson and Schneider lived in Singapore from 1998 to 2004 when Schneider was sent there as manufacturing director for 3M Asia. Born in Minneapolis, Robertson is also on the board of directors for Christian Community Homes and Services in Hudson and is a member of the St. Croix County Methamphetamine Advisory Committee.

Both Robertson and Steele have broad backgrounds in the nonprofit, health-care/social services field. They're passionate about their careers and eager to blaze a trail by establishing a community-based, free clinic for the two counties.

"People shouldn't be without health care in our country. It's a basic need," Robertson said. "The free clinic is an opportunity to provide that need to an underserved population in our communities.

"It is gratifying to me to start a project from scratch and watch it evolve. I am a big-picture person, and I enjoy conceptualizing the pieces and working with others to put them in place. "

For 14 years Robertson was director of The Healthy Seniors Project in St. Paul, a federally funded project that gives nurse-managed health care assistance to Medicare recipients. She was also a psychiatric nurse for Human Services Inc., a private nonprofit contractor with Washington County, Minn.

Robertson is used to a grassroots approach to health care and social service projects. She says it means keeping a local pulse on what people in their communities expect and need.

The free clinic's formation, she adds, uses this approach and that should make it successful.

"It's the power of the people," she says. "We're going to rally to see if we can get this done for our communities. That's the type of commitment it will take, and that's what we've seen so far. There's been tremendous support. Everyone's asking, 'How can I help? How can I contribute?'"

Steele has 16 years of working experience for the American Red Cross in St. Paul. She began as a volunteer resources director and became youth programs manager.

Steele said her work skills often call on her to plan, carry out and modify "new initiatives."

"The free clinic idea is a concept and a mission that I fully support. It also fits right in with my skill sets," she said.

The free medical clinic is almost entirely volunteer-driven. This makes Steele's job as volunteer coordinator critical.

The goal is to grow a volunteer base to well over 100. That figure would allow a rotational work schedule at the clinic of every four-six weeks. More than 20 volunteers will be needed every Tuesday night when the clinic is open.

Steele said scores of volunteers have stepped forward. More are still needed. A surge of volunteers has come from one key area -- doctors.

So far 26 doctors have volunteered their services. They come from both Pierce and St. Croix counties -- Ellsworth, Spring Valley, New Richmond, River Falls and Hudson. When the clinic opens, three doctors will be on duty.

"That really makes an impact having that kind of support," Steele said.

Besides doctors, volunteers of all stripes are welcome, including pharmacists. Only one has signed up.

Other volunteer needs range from nursing care, cleaning and data entry to social service professionals and pharmacy techs.

"Any person who has an interest in helping the free clinic should just call us," Steele said. "We'll try to match interests and skills with clinic needs."

Since food will be made available to clinic volunteers, Steele said someone's volunteering could simply be in the form of "baking a pan of bars or cookies" on the nights the clinic opens.

To volunteer, call Steele at (715) 307-3949 or go online at www.freeclinicpiercestcroix.org. Click on "Volunteer Registry" to apply and list your interests or skills in helping:

  • two greeters to meet patients as they come in;
  • two escorts to lead patients to lab or radiology services;
  • a register for checking in patients and assigning them appointment numbers;
  • a medical records clerk to establish charts and patient data;
  • three to four intake caseworkers to see if patients are eligible for the free clinic's services and if they could benefit from other referrals, such as to county public health for immunizations or social agencies like food pantries, Pregnancy Helpline and Turningpoint domestic abuse shelter;
  • three nurses to gather medical history, document health issues, complete blood pressure and temperature checks as needed.

    Robertson is responsible for the clinic's overall management and its services. This includes working to design, set up and manage data information, develop and keep client records, monitor and maintain supplies for the clinic, and to make regular reports to the board of directors.

    As the free clinic's opening date nears, Robertson is making sure the word gets out.

    Robertson said the success of the free clinic can become a source of community pride -- by all the communities involved.

    Questions about the Free Clinic of Pierce & St. Croix Counties can be directed to Robertson by calling her at (715) 307-3948.

    Free clinic facts

  • Opens: Tuesday, April 24
  • Hours: Tuesdays from 6-9 p.m.; registration begins at 5 p.m. No appointments, walk in.
  • Serving: On average, 20-30 patients a night; first come, first served.
  • Eligibility: Low-income, uninsured residents from Pierce and St. Croix counties: For a household of one, annual income of $18,889; household of two, $25,327; household of three, $31,765; household of four, $38,203.
  • What's provided?: Preventive health education and basic medical care for everything from back pain, colds, flu, ear infections, chronic hypertension, diabetes management -- anything that would require a visit to a regular medical clinic.
  • What's not provided?: Birth control, dental care, pregnancy testing, immunizations or mental health services; narcotics and other controlled substances are not dispensed.
  • Directions: Unit 2 at the River Falls Medical Clinic, 1629 E. Division St. For those coming to River Falls, this is on the city's east side, just off the Hwy 65/35 bypass. Take the exit for County Road M; then turn left onto M; then make another immediate left turn for the entrance drive leading to the clinic.
  • Contact: Linda Robertson, clinic manager, at (715) 307-3948 or Linda.robertson@allina.com.

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