For family nurse practitioner LuAnn Fowler, the grand opening of Tomah Memorial Hospital Occupational Health & Wellness center Wednesday was a dream come true.
The concept was her idea and has been in the works since 1996, when she first envisioned the concept while working in the dialysis department.
“I was really concerned that these patients should have been identified as having diabetes or high blood pressure much earlier, like if we had caught their disease earlier and treated it earlier, they might not have to be there,” she said. “So I had gone to the hospital administrator and said, ‘Look, I don’t think it’s OK for us to just sit back here and wait for people to come and see us when they’re sick. We need to reach out to the members of the community and do health screenings and blood pressure, be a part of the community and educate and prevent things like diabetes and high blood pressure and things like that.’”
Fowler took her vision to hospital CEO Phil Stuart, and he told her to write down her top 10 ideas and how much it might cost to run them. She did, and the program began with CPR courses, babysitting classes, blood pressure screening and presentations at local companies.
Later hearing tests, drug collections and physicals were added after employers asked for more services, which is why Fowler eventually went back to school to become a nurse practitioner in Stevens Point, where she specialized in occupational health services.
“I came back with the knowledge and expertise of having done the services there, and then we were able to put the clinic together,” she said.
The clinic, located in Tomah’s industrial park, conducts physicals, pre-employment screenings, post-accident and injury care and management, hearing tests and lab tests.
The building was constructed to meet the community’s needs, Stuart said.
“We were doing services in different places, and we listened to the customer base out here and said, ‘We really want to be closer to where our employees are,’” he said. “So we spent some time, looked at some different options, and then when this became available to us, it just made perfect sense considering how the industrial park is growing.
“It’s a great service that we can provide as a local health care entity for the people that are employed right here. We’re glad it’s (done).”
It’s a benefit to the industrial park and the community, Fowler said.
“I think us being here allows their employees to stay more productive, so it’s less time for them to be away from work,” she said. “Some our companies can send their employees to walk right across the street. So I think it’s going to be a huge value to them.”
State Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, agrees that the clinic is a benefit to the community.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “This is another great asset to a rural community so people can get quality care and they don’t have to necessarily drive all the way to La Crosse or other places to get the rehab and resources they need to get back on their feet and back to work.”
It’s beneficial for the community and as an economic-development tool, said Rep. Nancy VanderMeer, R-Tomah.
“By having this type of facility here where we can treat on-the-job type injuries and concerns, that’s an added plus to attracting other businesses to come here,” she said. “So I think not only are we going to create more access for our patients, for our employees here in the community, but there’s that tremendous added plus for economic development.”
Testin said the clinic fit with the legislature’s rural development initiatives.
“We’re really trying to focus on rural areas,” he said. “In this budget we incorporated two $1 million matching grant programs for rural communities and clinics to train up their workforce, specifically in advanced practice clinicians as well as allied health professionals. ... We want to give our medical providers the tools that they need to train up their workforce so people in areas like Tomah, like Sparta don’t have to go a long distance to get the care they need.”
Fowler is in awe that the clinic is a reality.
“This was a dream − Phil and I talked about it for many, many years, and I talked to the local employers about it as well as we were working through this,” she said. “So it has kind of been a dream with them, that we’ve been able to see come to fruition. So I think it’s a little bit still surreal for me that it really happened, but it’s an amazing thing.”
“We listened to the customer base out here and said, ‘We really want to be closer to where our employees are.’” Phil Stuart,
Tomah Memorial Hospital CEO