By Frank Zufall
Sawyer County Record
Reprinted with permission
Community Development Entity (CDE) representatives, the intermediary institution staff helping the new LCO Health Clinic acquire between $8-12 million in New Market Tax Credits for the $42 million project, were given an update Wednesday, Sept. 20 of the project and tours of existing health facilities and the project site for the 64,000-square-foot new clinic located off Cty. Hwy. K, south of Cty. Hwy. B, Town of Hayward.
The CDE representatives traveled from Chicago, St. Louis, Michigan and other destinations to attend the meeting.
Dr. Gary Girard, the health center director, led the meeting that was attended by at least two members of the LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB), including Vice Chair Tweed Shuman and William Trepanier, and former TGB member Lorraine Gouge who has advocate for the new center, along with LCO Attorney General James Schlender.
Also in attendance were Luke Schneider, the architect for the project from Brunton Architects & Engineers; Glen Hall, the new clinic project manager; Christian Clarquist, RN, director of nursing and Sara Klecan, human resource director.
For over an hour there was review of how the new clinic would better serve the tribe and community.
Girard noted the current clinic had been added on to four times but was proving inadequate to meet the needs of the tribal members.
“It isn’t working for patient care at this time,” he said of the current clinic. “So there’s a need for this new clinic.”
He noted the design of the new clinic will place all the departments under one roof using a “whole medical model” that allow patients to interact with other departments when they visit the clinic.
Girard said the priority for the clinic was meeting the needs of tribal members but as capacity is added services will be added to the community at large that will help generate revenue and add new departments.
“We’re talking about already adding on a dialysis unit,” he said. “We are currently sending patients out on a major cost of those services. And we would like to be able to do those in-home.”
Girard noted the new clinic is designed so additions can be added on all around the building.
Every department, he said, would expand, including podiatry where there is a big demand due to the high number of elders with diabetes who need foot care.
He talked of the flow of patient care and how all the departments were designed for efficiency between the departments allowing the “whole medical model for patient care” that allows for patients to access the care they need from not just one department but several. He explained how a dentist might notice a patient had high blood pressure and needed to see a medical doctor right away, so that dental patient could walk into medical and at least have a “warm handoff” with decisions then made regarding how to proceed to address the high blood pressure.
Hall noted how in the dentistry department the expanded number of rooms with three different stages — preliminary, actual dental work and exiting — will allow for more efficiency and more patients.
It was also noted that if there is another pandemic, the new clinic will allow for isolating areas better and accessing the clinic from different entrances.
Dr. Girard noted that the LCO Health Clinic was a leader during the pandemic helping other tribes and the local community acquire vaccine and keeping the doors open with good protocols.
With the other departments, the new clinic will also include behavioral health, which is currently located 3 miles away at the Bizhiki Wellness Center, near Cty. Hwy. B.
Another new feature is the pharmacy will have a drive-up.
Speaking for the TGB, Schlender talked of the importance of the health center to the tribe.
“In 1982, the tribe was able to offer its own medical services for the first time, and that was an important development for the tribe because prior to that, our tribal members were relying on medical services that were available either in Hayward or Ashland that oftentimes left our tribal members on the wrong end of racial discrimination or just straight up maltreatment or mistreatment.,” he said, “and so when the council was able to secure the funding under the trust relationship with the federal government, it was a big deal to move forward.
“Our tribal office housed our first clinic for a number of years and until I think it was like 87 or 88 is when this building was created. And this has been the major facility for the health services for the tribe since then,” said Schlender.
He noted the current building is “clearly outdated” and thus the need for the new clinic to address issues such as obesity, diabetes, drug addiction, historical trauma, which, he said, “contributes to alcoholism, drug use, suicide, teenage pregnancy and early death.”
He emphasized the importance of a modern health facility that also operates with a cultural sensitivity to its patients and concern for the seven generations, a teaching that considers the present actions out to seven generations of people.
Girard was asked if the new facility would use any alternative energy sources like geothermal or solar. He said that would be a future consideration as revenue became available to add alternative energy, but the first consideration was to build a facility that meets the medical needs within the budget.
Girard noted that urgent care, which will expand its hours, allows for walk-ins who don’t have an appointment but have an immediate need for patient care.
Clarquist said people often come in with chest pains when they should be going straight to a hospital, and noted that recently a patient came in and was diagnosed with a severe issue that resulted in the person being airlifted to Duluth and within two hours having heart surgery.
It was noted that the new facility would be 15-20 minutes closer for several Sawyer County residents versus traveling to Hayward.
One of the CDE representatives asked how the clinic is doing at attracting and retaining medical professionals.
Klecan said the clinic has had some “amazing” results based on salary and benefit packages offered, and recounted several recent hires in optometry, medical, pharmacy and dentistry.
Girard was asked if the new facility would also encourage new staff to join. He noted that the facility was planned with input from all the departments to enhance collaboration.
“From day one, we wanted to not only want our patients to feel comfortable, but our employees as well,” he said. “It’s easy for them to get to the shower rooms and break rooms, allowing them to step away from a stressful environment, take a 15-minute break to regroup and then get back to work.
After lunch the group took a bus to tour the Bizhiki Wellness Center and learned all services provided there and discussed the advantage of having behavioral health under the same roof as the other departments. It was especially noted that importance of those with medical assisted treatment (MAT) for drug or alcohol abuse needing to be near the medical department.
Marie Basty, director of Bizhiki, noted the center has 50 clients and had operated out of the facility, by Cty. Hwy. B, for four years.
While at the center, the visitors walked the grounds of the healing garden and learned native philosophy for addressing concerns and traditional plants used to address medical and emotional needs.
Then the group visited the construction site where they were met by Bryan Butterfield, senior project manager of Woodstone, the contracting company overseeing the project, and John Jackson, superintendent from Woodstone.
Roughly 6,000 square feet of the basement floor/maintenance space is completed with walls up.
A tour of the grounds also showed where a retaining pond would be located to the east of the new health center.
Then the bus tour returned to the existing health clinic for a tour of that space. It was noted how narrow the hallways were, barely allowing for pushing a patient in a wheelchair
One of the dentists, Dr. Allison Harper, said she expects when the new facility is completed that the dental staff will be able to catch up on backlog within about 6 months and then possibly taking on new patients.
Photo by Joe Morey, LCO News Editor