As politicians, lobbyists and policy makers in Washington and Madison continue to dance around the issue of healthcare coverage for all, and as fewer and fewer small businesses are fiscally able to provide even minimal insurance coverage for their employees, there is a relatively new organization in Door County that is endeavoring to make sure that those without formal coverage are still able to receive healthcare in the community. Staffed by a committed group of professionals and dedicated volunteers, the Community Clinic of Door County, incorporated in February of 2005, is providing complete, non-emergency, affordable primary health care for all uninsured and underinsured residents of Door County.
Led by Clinic Manager Jo Guenzel and Executive Director Allin Walker, the Community Clinic of Door County, supported by Door County Memorial Hospital, Aurora Healthcare, United Way of Door County and the County of Door Public Health office, provides service to those who “would not and could not access healthcare because of cost,” according to Guenzel. Typical for community health care services, says Walker, support for the Community Clinic of Door County is cobbled together from a variety of sources.
The clinic, located at 1623 Rhode Island Street in Sturgeon Bay, is open four days a week. Guenzel enthused about the clinic “finally having a permanent home. Patients are received in a respectful, dignified, first-class manner.” She emphasized that the new facility sees patients on an appointment basis, differentiating it from a walk-in clinic.
To ensure that healthcare is affordable to everyone, patient fees are on a sliding scale at the Community Clinic, based on family size and income, according to federal poverty guidelines, and all patients are served regardless of their ability to pay at the time of their appointment. “Everybody who comes here pays something,” says Guenzel. “The lowest cost for an office visit is $5.” The clinic has a small on-site pharmacy that can provide generic medications. Representatives from the big pharmacology companies also supply samples of brand-names drugs to the clinic at no cost.
Guenzel’s roots in community healthcare in Door County go back to 1999 and her work with the Open Door Community Health Center. Guenzel, originally from Green Bay, first came to Door County for the summer season in 1975 to earn money to pay for college. She subsequently went on to earn a Bachelors Degree in Nursing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Masters in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
She began her career in healthcare in 1979 working with Nurse Practitioner Mike Flood and Dr. Joan Traver at a clinic in Sister Bay. She worked as a psychiatric nurse for Bellin Healthcare in Green Bay for 10 years. (She then took 12 years away from healthcare, working as an independent glass artist, with a gallery and studio in Juddville.) She also served as the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Sturgeon Bay, from 1997 until 1999, when that facility closed.
Allin Walker has been the Executive Director of the Community Clinic since May 2005. Walker, who emphasizes that he does “no medical stuff at all,” does have a significant background in community organization and healthcare, including running a program in Milwaukee called Healthcare for the Homeless.
The Community Clinic of Door County maintains a volunteer staff of three doctors, five RNs and one volunteer nurse practitioner. The volunteers are able to practice at the clinic because the cost of their liability insurance is picked up by the State of Wisconsin. There is also one paid nurse practitioner on staff.
Peter Sigmann is one of the volunteer doctors; he serves as the medical director of the Community Clinic and is also president of the board of directors. Dr. Sigmann spends one and a half days each week working at the clinic; his wife Jeannie also volunteers and is a retired Milwaukee public health nurse.
One of the major challenges that the Community Clinic faces in Door County is limited access to qualified volunteers. According to Guenzel, unlike a major city with lots of retired nurses and doctors, there are a small number of retired professionals on the peninsula. As a result the Community Clinic is always on the lookout for new volunteers who are committed to and active in the community.
The staff and volunteers of the Community Clinic constantly struggle to meet the needs of the area. Their initial estimates assumed that the clinic would receive about 80 patient visits per month. So far this summer, they have had 117 office visits in June and 129 in July. The clinic also feels the pressure to extend and expand their services, making affordable healthcare available in Northern Door as well as in Sturgeon Bay.
Walker and Guenzel emphasized that the clinic is a community response to the issues and is community based. They both singled out Rhonda Kolberg, Director of the County Public Health Department, along with United Way of Door County as important working partners in their efforts.
Guenzel pointed out that the mission of the Community Clinic is very specific so that there is no competition between the clinic and other local healthcare providers. Using federal poverty guidelines, the clinic is providing health care to those without insurance and those who are underinsured. As Guenzel said: “If you can go elsewhere, that’s where you should go.” For those who cannot go elsewhere, the Community Clinic of Door County is providing an invaluable service.