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The Open Door Health Center’s Mobile Dental unit will soon be visible in Worthington, along with the Mobile Medical unit. The service is geared to uninsured and underinsured individuals in the community. Submitted photo

Open Door Health Center to bring mobile units to Worthington

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WORTHINGTON — Uninsured and underinsured residents will soon have a new option in health and dental care in the community, as Open Door Health Center plans to begin operating mobile clinics in Worthington next week.

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Mobile Medical and mobile dental laboratories will provide services once a week in Worthington, starting with the medical lab’s visit March 6 and March 13. The mobile lab will offer free health screenings from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. those days in the parking lot of the Nobles County Government Center, near the intersection of Ninth Street and Fourth Avenue.

A more permanent location is being sought to park the mobile lab, which will be in Worthington every Thursday. The mobile lab will join the medical lab in the community in May.

Jen Theneman, Chief Operating Officer for Open Door Health Center, said Worthington was chosen as a new location to host the medical labs because of the needs in the community.

Based in Mankato, Open Door Health Center is in its 20th year of providing care to the uninsured and underinsured people of the region. Up until March 2012, clients had to travel to Mankato for medical or dental appointments.

“It’s always been really evident that there are places that just don’t have all of the services that are needed for the uninsured or maybe linguistic or cultural understanding,” said Theneman, adding their clients travel from 26 counties across southern Minnesota, as well as from other states. For a variety of reasons — lack of a vehicle, no gas money or the travel time — there were many potential clients not being served.

Thenemen said when the opportunity arose in 2010 to seek grant dollars through the Healthier Minnesota Community Clinic Fund, which consisted of tobacco settlement funds and Blue Cross Blue Shield dollars, Open Door applied for and received funding for two mobile labs — one to focus on medical and the other to house a dental laboratory.

With the mobile labs, they now bring doctors to the communities where they were needed most. In the spring of 2012, Open Door established outreach clinics in Marshall, Dodge Center and Gaylord. For a time, the medical unit was also dispatched to Slayton once per month.

“We started out with limited days, but we kept hearing from county public health and a lot of other agencies we’d been talking with that there was a need for medical for the underserved; and dental across the board for the masses,” Theneman said.

As of last summer, both the dental mobile unit ramped up to five days per week, doubling up in the three communities because of the “great need,” she added. The medical mobile unit went out two days per week, but will increase to four days per week next month.

“That will enable us to increase the locations we serve,” Theneman said.

She did her research in Worthington, talking with partnering agencies such as the United Way, Chamber of Commerce, health organizations, county public health, pregnancy centers and mental health centers during the past year to determine the needs.

Theneman said the mobile units aren’t intended to take business away from local doctors and dentists.

“Oftentimes, if people aren’t living in poverty or they don’t have issues getting insurance, they don’t quite understand what these folks are living with,” Theneman said. “We’re going to be able to help some people in need on a regular basis. The plan is just to come in and help fill the gap with medical and dental.”

The mobile medical lab is staffed with a doctor and nurse in a general family practice setting.

“They can do anything from well child checks and immunizations to DOT physicals and sports physicals,” Theneman explained. “We help with pre-natal care, pretty much anything your typical doctor’s office can do. We do have some lab testing on board, however we’re limited because we’re mobile.”

Theneman said they are working on a partnership agreement with Avera Worthington Specialty Clinic to provide any lab work, such as radiology and specialty care procedures, that the mobile unit isn’t able to provide.

The mobile dental lab will be staffed with a dentist, dental hygienist, dental assistant and, at times, a dental therapist. Both labs are equipped with the “latest and greatest technology,” with electronic medical records that can be accessed through Open Door Health Center’s Mankato office. Each mobile unit has a wheelchair lift and has both English and Spanish-speaking employees on board.

“I like to think of our services as back to the basics,” Theneman said. “A lot of the people we see haven’t been to see a medical doctor or dentist for many years.”

The goal of Open Door Health Center is to provide preventative care after working through “past issues” of a patient’s health.

As the only federally-qualified health center south and west of the Twin Cities, Theneman said their overarching goal is to reduce the number of uninsured people who end up in emergency rooms.

While the mobile labs operate as a nonprofit, Theneman said they do charge for services based on what clients can pay.

“We do ask everyone to pay something if they don’t have insurance,” she said. “We do offer discounts to those who qualify based on income, and we accept insurance as well.”

To make an appointment with either the mobile medical or dental lab, contact Open Door Health Center at (507) 388-2120.

“We’re really excited to come,” Theneman said. “We’ve had a warm welcome already.”

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

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Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at www.farmbleat.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7330
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