A clinic for the poor and uninsured going up on St. Paul's East Side and partly funded with federal Affordable Care Act dollars held a festive "topping off" ceremony last week, marking a significant step toward its opening in May.
The new home for the 30-year-old East Side Family Clinic, a project of West Side Community Health Services, will offer not just regular health care but dental and behavioral health services in one building.
In the greater scheme, the expanded facility will be another welcome development in the revitalization of the East Side in general and the Phalen Corridor in particular. The clinic is going up on a former 3M site.
"It's about access to really good, quality health care on a bus line, in a neighborhood," said City Council President Kathy Lantry, who watched Thursday with Mayor Chris Coleman, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum and more than 100 others as the building's highest beam was hoisted into place with a fir tree on top.
Seeing a spike in poverty push health care needs higher over the past decade, West Side Community Health Services decided to make a move.
The new building at E. 7th Street and Minnehaha Avenue will double the size of the clinic's space to 34,000 square feet. It will have 20 rooms for dental care and five for mental health.
"This will allow us to serve patients in a more integrated, comprehensive way," said Dr. Jaeson Fournier, West Side's CEO.
The clinic also will provide jobs. "It's the sort of business we want to attract because it hits all income levels and provides a range of opportunities from janitors to physicians," Lantry said.
The $11.2 million project got funding from many sources, including a $4 million grant from the federal program commonly called Obamacare. The St. Paul Port Authority sold the land for $1 as part of its Beacon Bluff Development on land formerly occupied by 3M, and helped with financing along with U.S. Bank and Central Bank-Golden Valley.
Said U.S. Bank spokeswoman Nicole Garrison-Sprenger: "This is our back yard too. We understand this project and what it means, so we wanted to be involved."
The clinic organization had its beginnings in the basement of St. Matthew's Catholic Church on St. Paul's West Side and has retained that identity ever since, despite having clinics in several locations.
Coleman joked: "Only in St. Paul could the West Side clinic be on the East Side."
The biggest need, Fournier said, is the expansion of dental and mental health services, which have been harder to come by for indigent patients. U.S. census data for the surrounding neighborhoods pointed up the need for more services, he said. Although the population in the nearby census tracts declined slightly from 2000 to 2010, 36 percent more people were living in poverty, Fournier said.
At the clinic, a patient can see a doctor, have lab work done and get an X-ray for $20. But if he can't pay, he will still get care, Fournier said. Although the target patient is at or below twice the federal poverty level, he said, "We see people regardless of income."
West Side has 18 sites in Ramsey County, and roughly two in three patients at the East Side clinic come from the nearby Daytons Bluff and Payne-Phalen neighborhoods. But there is no residency requirement for services. It sees 9,000 patients in its current home, but that number will increase to 11,000 in the new spot.
"We provide care to anyone who comes through our door," Fournier said. "We're here to serve."
Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson