A community medical clinic in uptown Minneapolis will stop seeing patients by the end of the week after what its leaders describe as "extraordinary financial" problems brought on by the national health care overhaul. Dental and mental health services will remain open.
The Neighborhood Involvement Program sent out a letter saying it had lost 30 percent of its patients as a result of the federal health care law, and included its mandates for electronic health records in a list of reasons why the medical clinic would close. The nonprofit organization also cited patients not paying balances and donors delaying funding decisions.
The mainstay at Hennepin Avenue and S. 24th Street has provided care for uninsured and underinsured people since 1972, relying largely on volunteer doctors and staff.
"Certainly, these clinics that provide care for free, or at a tremendously low cost to the patients, are critical," said Jenni Bowring-McDonough, a spokeswoman for the state health insurance exchange MNsure. More than 300,000 people in Minnesota have signed up through the state's health insurance exchange so far.
"There's still going to be a need for care that's affordable," Bowring-McDonough said.
A study in August by the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics found that 243,000 Minnesotans will remain uninsured, even after the federal insurance overhaul. The study cited undocumented immigrants and people without transportation or in rural areas as some of the consumers who would go without insurance.
Neighborhood Involvement Program CEO Patsy Bartley did not respond to messages, but financial records show the nonprofit lost $180,536 between 2010 and 2012, the latest year for which numbers were available. That year, the program had 10,185 medical, dental and family planning visits.
Until she landed a job with health insurance last year, Maggie Strugala went to the clinic for physical exams, earaches, shots and other basic care after leaving her parents' medical insurance plan. The program typically charged $30 to $80 per visit, she said.
"If you couldn't [pay], they would say, 'Pay what you can' and come back and finish the payment at any time, and that's really helpful for a lot of people," she said. "They don't force it down your throat."
Strugala said the clinic was "very much like a family, and I think [the program] has just been a staple of that for such a long time."
Kelsey Weitzel said she was studying at Minneapolis Community & Technical College with no health insurance when she began developing symptoms of diabetes. The clinic diagnosed her, setting her up with a dietitian, giving her regular physical exams and drawing blood.
"I think it's a good thing that people are able to go elsewhere … but it's awful for the staff who have been there for so long, and they care so much," Weitzel said. "It's a loss of community."
She's still getting used to having her own health insurance through a job with the Minnesota Reading Corps.
When she walks into her new doctor's office, Weitzel said, "it doesn't feel quite like home yet."