St. Peter Free Clinic Filling Gap in Care

The American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation Family Medicine Cares USA signature program is awarding the St. Peter Community Free Clinic a $19,055 grant to purchase durable medical equipment and instruments.

The St. Peter Community Free Clinic is a Volunteers in Medicine America clinic. It opened in St. Peter, Minnesota, in May 2019, and is championed by past MAFP president Keith Stelter, MD, MMM.

We talked with Dr. Stelter to learn more about the free clinic and how it’s serving the community of St. Peter.

Why start a free clinic in St. Peter?

Many people struggle to pay for basic medical care. So, in the fall of 2018, we partnered with the local food shelf and set up health screenings for diabetes and hypertension. We found that some people had not seen a doctor in many years. Others had seen a doctor; but, the cost of going back was so high that, unfortunately, they let their medications run out, and their blood pressure and diabetes fell out of control. With the free clinic, we’re hoping to close that gap and provide care for those who previously have not seen a physician because of lack of insurance.

Who staffs the clinic?

We are all volunteers. The clinic has a pharmacist, two nurses and two physicians. Several times a month, we also have a psychologist to provide counseling and mental health services, and we have partnered with a local public health nurse to give vaccinations. We are looking into getting a dental hygienist and social worker to increase our services.

What services are offered?

We offer basic primary health care, which is essentially treatment of common infectious illnesses, hypertension, diabetes, depression, anxiety and musculoskeletal issues. We provide preventive care visits, pharmacist consultations and mental health counseling services (when we have a psychologist available). We are able to offer free comprehensive lab services from our local hospital (a great service!) when we cannot do labs onsite. We offer vaccinations when a public health nurse is present. And, generous community members have given us funding to cover half the cost of medications that we provide to our patients.

Does the clinic have local partners?

Yes, we partner and share space with the St. Peter Area Food Shelf. Our patients can access food and then come directly to the clinic for medical care, all in the same visit. We also have partnerships with public health and the local hospital, River’s Edge, for lab services. Mayo Clinic Health System is supporting us by providing malpractice insurance for nurses and other Mayo physicians who volunteer in our clinic. If a patient needs more intense services or care, we coordinate with Open Door Health Center in Mankato, a Federally Qualified Health Center.

Which groups helped get the clinic off the ground?

We initially worked with Volunteers in Medicine America, a national organization that supports free clinics, and the University of Minnesota Mankato Family Medicine Residency. Several family medicine resident physicians and residency faculty were key players in the initial planning and creation of the clinic. We were also lucky to have secured free “office space” from the organization that owns the building where the food shelf is located. The building was previously used as a pharmacy, and we currently use the common meeting space and some office space for exam rooms and consultation areas. Our Board of Trustees, a diverse group of people from the community who are committed to eliminating health disparities, continues to drive the strategy for the clinic.

Tell us more about the community you’re serving.

We are seeing a large number of patients who are working more than 40 hours per week (more than 70% are employed, according to our statistics), but their monthly income is very low for their family size. Many times, they are below the defined federal poverty level. They really have no ability to buy insurance through their employer and no ability to get medical assistance, due to a number of other demographic factors. We find that our patients are very concerned about their health, and they are good about coming back for rechecks when that is needed/advised.

How will the clinic use these grant dollars?

The grant will be a huge “shot in the arm” for our clinic. We have been using old medical equipment from our medical school days to examine patients⁠—some of it is more than 30 years old! We will now be able to purchase exam tables (instead of examining patients on a sofa). We will also get more lab medical equipment for point-of-care testing, e.g., A1C, lipid and hemoglobin. We are hoping to buy a point-of-care ultrasound machine, so that we can do lung and other imaging onsite instead of having to send patients to the hospital. We will be transitioning to an electronic medical record and will need some computers and printers. We also plan to create more consultation rooms, using movable commercial room dividers, since we only have three private office spaces now for exams and counseling.

Parting thoughts?

Working on the free clinic has been one of the most gratifying endeavors of my career. I encourage other physicians who have the desire to do something like this to start the process!

See clinic hours, volunteer to serve, donate and more at www.stpeterfreeclinic.org.

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Posted by: Emie Buege, communications

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