Three Minnesota community medical clinics have secured nearly $1.8 million in federal grants to expand care in underserved communities, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.

United Family Practice Health Center in St. Paul and Cook Area Health Services in Cook, Minn., each received grants for $650,000. Open Door Health Center in Mankato received $487,500.

The three were among 219 grants totaling $128.6 million from funds set aside by the Affordable Care Act to build new health care access sites. There were 810 grant applications.

"We currently don't have a medical provider in Tower," in St. Louis County, said Elizabeth Storm, chief operating officer of Cook Area Health Services.

Now, Cook Area will be able to build a medical clinic with dental and mental health services and hire new staff. The new facility should open within 120 days, in line with the grant's tight timeline.

The clinics are three of Minnesota's 17 federally qualified health centers, or "safety net" providers that, together, serve about 175,000 Minnesotans each year. Community health centers serve primarily under- and uninsured patients, who often can't afford care. Twenty percent of Cook Area Health Services' patients live below the federal poverty line, $23,000 for a family of four. About 30 percent are uninsured.

Open Door Health Center, the only federally qualified health center in southern Minnesota, will use the grant money to expand its mobile clinic schedule to include Cottonwood and Murray counties. Currently, the mobile clinic visits Sibley, Lyon and Dodge counties.

"We hope we're creating greater access and helping people [find] resources and the education they need to be engaged in their own health," said Sarah Kruse, Open Door's chief executive officer.

The centers will be required to provide yearly reports, with data on diabetes and high blood pressure patients, prenatal care, and rates of child vaccination, cervical cancer screening and low-birth-weight babies.

Daniela Hernandez • 612-673-4088