COOK – Scenic Rivers Health Services, which operates medical clinics in Cook, Tower, Bigfork, Big Falls, Floodwood and Northome, and dental offices in Cook, Tower and Floodwood, has seen its …
COOK – Scenic Rivers Health Services, which operates medical clinics in Cook, Tower, Bigfork, Big Falls, Floodwood and Northome, and dental offices in Cook, Tower and Floodwood, has seen its clientele grow tremendously over the past 30-plus years.
That’s also created more jobs. The clinic, which started with about 20-30 employees in 1979, now boasts a staff of 110.
And there are more expansion plans for the future, according to Nancy Mault, chief operations officer. One possibility under consideration is adding another dental office in Bigfork.
The medical and dental services provider can trace its success to a variety of factors. The passage of the Affordable Care Act, for one, allowed more people to obtain health insurance and make use of the clinic’s services.
Meanwhile, the addition of new medical staff has boosted clientele at the clinics, which can accommodate requests to see a doctor more swiftly.
The medical clinic at Cook, which started with just two doctors — Dr. Harold Johnston and Dr. Bruce Garbisch — now has six doctors and two certified nurse practitioners on staff. The most recent additions to the medical staff include Drs. Matthew Holmes, Nicholas Vidor and Josie Norberg Lopez. All three have ties to northern Minnesota. Holmes grew up in Angora while Vidor is from International Falls. Lopez has family in Tower.
The three doctors also serve as the medical providers at the Tower Clinic, which also has three certified nurse practitioners on its staff.
The younger doctors are drawing more families to the clinics.
“We’re seeing more kids again, which is great,” said Mault. “And we’re also addressing more women’s health issues.”
In addition, Mault said Dr. Holmes is doing colonoscopies at the Cook Hospital, which helps patients remain closer to home for a procedure they previously had to travel to have done.
Grants helping the nonprofit service
Scenic Rivers has also been able to access grants to remodel and improve its facilities. “We’re a federally qualified health center and with that we’ve been able to have expanded services grant money available to us,” explained Mault. “And that’s allowed us to expand services at all of our sites and we’ve also been able to do some pretty significant remodeling at all of our sites.”
The Cook medical and dental facilities have both been totally remodeled within the last five years while the Tower clinic is a brand new site, which will be marking its third year of operation in April. “And those are all because of expanded services dollars through federal grant dollars,” Mault said.
The Tower clinic is located in the same building as the Tower-Soudan Elementary School, which has sometimes made it more challenging to establish the clinic’s identity.
“It’s a beautiful clinic when you walk in, but from the outside it does look like a school,” Mault said. “So I think one of the challenges there is for people to recognize there’s a clinic there.”
One of most significant needs that Scenic Rivers is addressing is dental care. The clinics it operates in Cook, Tower and Floodwood are the only dental clinics north of Duluth that will accept Medical Assistance patients. As such, the dental clinics draw patients from across the region.
“There is such a need and demand for dental services,” said Mault, who said the clinics draw patients from communities across northern Minnesota, including Grand Rapids, Bemidji, Virginia and Hibbing.
Five dentists currently staff the Cook facility, including Ehab Rezk, who grew up in India. “He’s the only person I know who compared a moose to a camel,” joked Mault, “but he’s adjusting to life in northern Minnesota.”
Tower’s clinic is staffed by four dentists, three of whom rotate there from the Cook clinic. Bruce Baker, who had retired from his regular practice, opted to continue as a dentist for a few days each week at Tower.
Dental services are in such high demand that Scenic Rivers is currently contemplating adding another dental clinic at Bigfork, according to Mault.
While Scenic Rivers continues to upgrade its services and equipment, and works closely with hospitals at Cook and Bigfork, Mault said one of biggest obstacles to health care remains the cost.
Although the Affordable Care Act has made health insurance available to more people, the rising deductibles for many of the plans offered through MNsure discourage folks from seeking medical care until they reach a crisis state and end up in the emergency room or the hospital.
“That’s something that I hope our political leaders can fix,” she said.
In the meantime, Scenic Rivers remains one of the success stories in an area where economic mainstays such as logging or mining have been struggling.