The Free Health Clinic is undergoing a major transformation.

FHC, which opened in 2008 as Shalom, has seen between 6-10 patients a month in its five hour monthly window in a house. But the donation of a facility at 1520 Vernon St. has provided the ability and impetus for the clinic to increase providers and services.

As of Oct. 1, the new space is officially “theirs,” said FHC president Angie Rowin-Tippit.

It is set to open before the end of this year, however. And a lot must happen before the clinic is ready for patients, including renovations and a Nov. 1 fundraiser to pay for the monthly $600 condo fees.

After the new space opens, FHC plans to offer dental work for preschool age children, reproductive health care for women and more mental health services.

Currently, the clinic provides services to eight communities, with more than 49,000 combined residents. Board members know there are more people who could use the resource, as health insurance is often a last priority after rent, food and childcare.

“Regardless of the ability to pay we are only as healthy as the people that live in our community,” board member and FHC Advanced Practice Clinician Dr. Tina DeGroot said.

The current 800-square-foot house does not provide enough space or privacy for the amount of need that is out there, Rowin-Tippit said, as patients are having examinations in bedrooms and meetings in the kitchen.

The new space,which was a previous clinic, is nearly triple the size at 2,300 square feet with three exam rooms, waiting area, reception area and two private bathrooms.

As a result of the interior transformation, board members want to take advantage of the opportunity and expand health care services and community partnerships.

DeGroot, who is a professor at Edgewood College in the School of Nursing, secured a partnership with their business and nursing students.

This semester, roughly 33 students will be working at the clinic for direct patient care, and business students will develop a 12-18 month strategic plan as part of their semester project.

DeGroot is working with colleges to provide female-based care such as breast examines, questions about menopause, contraceptive, STI screening and pelvic exams.

Currently, the clinic is open 5-8:30 p.m. the first and third Thursday and to patients with little to no insurance.

Board member Dr. Richard Albright, who will work with a team to perform dental services like evaluations, cleanings, fluorides and sealants on children 1-5 years old, said his dream would be for the clinic to be open every day for people who need it.

However, with the upcoming changes, the board has decided to address new hours in the future.

‘Feel as if it was a regular clinic’

The current FHC location at 1116 Ridge St. is a home owned by Skaalen Retirement services which has donated the space, free of charge for the past 11 years. Rowin-Tippit said board members are grateful for the previous space, but it served its purpose and now they are excited to expand.

“(The new space) will help us give us more state of the art care,” Rowin-Tippit said. “When these patients come to the clinic, they’re going to feel just as if it was a regular clinic instead of a home.”

The exam rooms will provide privacy to the patients and the reception area provides a space to store patient records.

The clinic was previously the office of Dr. Frank Nichols, Dr. Walter Moritz and Dr. David Grout, who used the space in the 1980s. Two of the doctors have since died, and their wives have donated the space to the FHC.

It has not been used since 2016, and needs new carpet, new toilets, paint and a thorough cleaning. Volunteers from places such as Cummins, Urso Brothers, RHD Plumbing and Edgewood College students held two volunteer days in September to help with the renovations.

“It’s those people, with their generous support, that are going to help us do it right,” Rowin-Tippit said.

The move provides a more clinic like atmosphere and is a better fit to serve the community of patients, DeGroot said.

The clinic is located near the Brick House Motel, which is often used as temporary housing for people who are experiencing homelessness and there are a number of affordable housing units in the area, DeGroot said.

The clinic is close to County Hwy. N which makes it accessible to the seven other communities the clinic serves: Evansville, Oregon, McFarland, Brooklyn, Cambridge, Deerfield and Cottage Grove.

Collaboration expands services

Currently, patients can get lab work, X-rays, blood pressure readings and reduced rate on prescriptions.

All those services will continue, but board members want more.

DeGroot said the partnership with Edgewood College will provide the extra bodies the FHC needs to run the new services and it’s a great opportunity for nursing students to treat patients without all the fancy equipment in high tech hospitals.

Rowin-Tippit said she hopes the business students will be able to help with visibility. She believes one of their biggest problems with low patient numbers is simply because people don’t know about the services.

“It’s a partnership that is a win-win for all of us,” Rowin-Tippit said.

Albright, a family dentist who owned a practiced in Stoughton for more than 35 years said he often saw kindergarteners who had never seen a dentist before.

“After years of seeing people come in with problems because of lack of information and improper home care – it is really disheartening and (early detection) can make a difference in the lives of future children,” Albright said.

From there, if children need more extensive care, Albright will refer children to volunteer dentists and specialist in the southwest Dane County area.

As a board member, Albright said the new services will provide broader and better care in a facility that meets the needs of the patients. After the generous donations of time and money from community members, the expansion is possible.

“In the years I’ve lived here, this community is known for taking care of its own,” Albright said. “Stoughton does a very good job of taking care of those in need. We are pretty proud to be here.”

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