ELY - As the Ely Community Health Center’s new director settles in, this town’s source for free medical assistance is experiencing an increase in clients along with the addition of new …
ELY - As the Ely Community Health Center’s new director settles in, this town’s source for free medical assistance is experiencing an increase in clients along with the addition of new health care options.
ECHC Executive Director Jon Erickson, who describes himself as “both new Ely and old Ely,” has been at his post for about six months. He introduced himself at a Tuesday Group gathering last week and touched on many new initiatives that are now in place or coming soon.
“Jo Ann, my wife of almost 40 years, is a born and raised Elyite. We have been coming up here for almost 42 years and we have a long history here,” he said, “We have seen a lot of the transition that Ely has gone through.”
The couple left Ely in 2006 and lived in Mexico for 10 years, moved to California for a year, and then lived in France for the last three years. “I have had a great exposure to different healthcare systems,” Erickson said. “There are lots of lessons to be learned on how we should be evolving healthcare.”
Erickson was tapped to lead the “Ely Free Clinic” in June. He graduated from Drake University and began his career providing software and operational consulting at Anderson & Co. He later worked for various companies across the United States and Europe and has significant experience in operations, sales, business development and marketing.
In addition to his background in business and technology, he was also an active volunteer with a health care advocacy group that reached out to provide health care and referrals to school children by working with medical and oral hygiene providers to advocate for economically disadvantaged families in parts of Mexico.
The mission of the ECHC, founded in 2011, is to deliver affordable health care services to advance individual and community health. The free clinic, now entirely locally based, is located in the AFU Building at the corner of Harvey Street and South Fourth Ave. E, and serves underinsured and uninsured patients every Thursday evening.
Under Erickson’s administrative and operational leadership, ECHC is comprised of 10 medical professionals, seven nurses and Emergency Medical Technicians, one dental hygienist, and 13 volunteers who handle patient intake and check-out processes.
Through Oct 31, volunteer medical personnel have provided 167 hours of professional services to the clinic. At ECHC, 170 patients were served in the first ten months of 2019. “That includes 114 new patients and tourists,” he said, “And 138 of our patients so far this year have no access to dental care, and 99 had no health insurance. These numbers should absolutely floor most communities.”
The ECHC provides a free weekly clinic, on Thursdays from 5:30-7 p.m., that involves non-emergency services including, but not limited to, referrals for x-rays, lab work, and prescriptions. “We have a lot of tourists that come in during the summer who may need stitches removed, or a prescription renewed,” Erickson said. “We help a lot of people who don’t have access to health insurance and who might not otherwise be able to get health care.” He noted that many nearby college and high school athletes come in every season for their required physicals.
Since taking over his new role at the clinic, Erickson said he has learned much about the Ely community and the challenges of health care access “There is a huge problem in Ely and in the surrounding area,” he said.
In addition to providing health services, dental care is becoming increasingly important at the ECHC. Since August, patients have the opportunity to obtain fluoride varnish treatments that help to prevent tooth decay. “This is critically important for the very young as well as the elderly,” Erickson said.
Health insurance navigation assistance is also a new service provided at the ECHC. “There is a huge gap between what is available to people and what Ely residents are aware of what they qualify for,” Erickson said. He noted that for himself, being in his early 60s and not qualified for Medicare, health insurance through MnSure is not as expensive as he assumed.
“It is still expensive. It is not cheap, but there is help available,” he said. “And there is a lot of information available for those who need it. There is a major gap in what is available and what people think is available. There are way too many uninsured and uninformed people in the Ely area. We are here to help you get through the process.”
The focus of 2019, according to Erickson, was to expand health clinic services through increasing the number of patients, as well as the dental fluoride program. In addition to the insurance navigation assistance now offered, community outreach and volunteer recruitment are being expanded.
In the next year, Erickson said he would like to see an expansion of the weekly health clinics. “We want to continue to expand out community outreach and education, and are looking for more volunteers,” he said. “More coordination and participation with the behavioral health network and the community care team, as well as more governmental policy advocacy is also high on the list.”
He also revealed that the ECHC is looking to expand dental care. “We want to open a full service dental clinic that would operate twice a month to do restorative dental procedures such as cavities, crowns, bridges and the like, as well as general hygiene services,” he said.
This would be fueled by collaboration with the Ely Family Dental Clinic. “Dr. Crystal Chopp is making a major donation to make this possible,” he said. In addition, several grant applications are in process to help launch the endeavor.
“I need any referrals of people who would consider volunteering or actually being a part-time employee, assuming we get the funding, as a dental hygienist or dental therapist,” Erickson said. “Talk to anyone, hiring dental professionals here in Ely is really hard. It is crucial we have help to make this work.”
In addition, Erickson asked the community for any help by way of volunteers, and/or funding, to keep yje Ely free medical clinic viable for many years to come. “We have a lot of need.”