Winona Health ends free Community Clinic, cites declining need - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Winona Health ends free Community Clinic, cites declining need

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WINONA, Minn. (KTTC) -- About a year ago we brought you the story of the Winona Community Health Clinic. It's a free, once-a-month clinic started in 2010 to provide healthcare to the uninsured.

"In 2010 many people didn't have an option," said Rebecca Lamberty of Winona Health.

For the first three years of the program, it was busy.

"We had a period of time where we had to turn people away," Lamberty said.

But last fall things changed. In October, MNsure opened for business and those patients had the opportunity, many for the first time, to purchase insurance, and the number of people walking into the free clinic dropped drastically.

"In the last three clinics, the last three months, we saw an 84 percent decrease in demand," Lamberty said.

Things fell to the point where in December only five people used the free services, and Winona Health decided to make a change and close the free community clinic and find another way to serve those patients.

Tuesday was their last day. "So the Clinic is closing but the concept and idea of preventative care is just changing," said Lamberty.

But in the changing world of health care, is the closing of a free clinic a good sign for a community? And does that mean the Affordable Care Act is having some positive impact?

It's a loaded question, but it's one Winona Health is willing to answer.

"Yes, I mean there are options available to patients today that weren't in the fall of 2010 and I'm optimistic that that will be a helpful and a good change for the community," Lamberty said.

What about the people who still rely on those free health care services? Winona Health officials say they've already communicated with patients about which options are out there, and patients can work with Patient Advocates to see if they qualify for things like the patient care fund.

Additionally, Winona Health officials say they're working on new services that would bring healthcare out of the clinic setting and closer to low-income patients.

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