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Volunteers keep St. Clare Health Mission of Monroe County going for 25 years

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SPARTA—For 25 years, St. Clare Health Mission of Monroe County has served as a last resort for people in need of medical care.

“It’s basically for adults who fall through the cracks, who don’t have health insurance and don’t qualify for any medical assistance,” said clinic medical director Dr. Michael Saunders. “We’ve had patients come through the door who just lost their job and can’t afford their blood pressure medicine.”

The clinic is inviting the community to join its 25th anniversary celebration Saturday, Oct. 23, in downtown Sparta. It will be part of the Make a Difference Week fair sponsored by the Sparta Chamber of Commerce from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Mueller Square.

Clinic coordinator Deborah Lutjen said the event is an opportunity to express gratitude to the community for supporting the clinic.

“We want to thank the many community members who donated time to volunteer at the clinic, who raised funds to support the clinic and purchase prescription medications, who provided lunches for the evening clinic volunteers and who continue to support the clinic through financial donations and grants,” she said.

The clinic is located at the Mayo Clinic Health System-Sparta campus and operates the first and third Tuesday of the month from 5 to 6:30 p.m. No appointments are necessary, and interpreters are available.

The mission was founded by Dr. Pat Raftery, who modeled the clinic after St. Clare Health Mission in La Crosse. Lutjen said thousands of patients have received free medical care, and tens of thousands of prescription medicines have been dispensed since the clinic opened in 1996.

Lutjen said the clinic is staffed by over 40 community members who donate their time. The care is provided by volunteer medical staff, including physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, pharmacists, social workers, interpreters and support personnel. Church and community groups provide an evening lunch for volunteers who arrive after working a full day at their regular jobs.

Saunders said the clinic is totally dependent on volunteers and monetary donations.

“St. Clare Health Mission could not exist without all who give their time, talents and treasures to help those in need,” Saunders said. “We are thankful for their dedication.”

Saunders said local medical providers are crucial to the clinic’s operation. Mayo Health System provides space on its Sparta campus, and local health systems — including Mayo, Gundersen and Tomah Health — accept referral vouchers from the clinic.

The mission has actually seen fewer patients over the past decade. Saunders credits the Affordable Care Act, which increased the number of people with health insurance or access to Medicaid.

“Twenty years ago, we were open every Tuesday and stayed until 9 or 10 p.m.,” he said. “We’re finding less people falling through the cracks. The need seems to have declined.”

Saunders said the mission often treats conditions that would become significantly worse without timely care. He said untreated conditions inevitably get more expensive and often result in emergency room visits.

However, Saunders said the mission isn’t motivated by economics. He said the mission is driven by the fundamental belief that everyone, regardless of economic circumstance, deserves quality health care.

“Our philosophy is that health care is a right, not a privilege and that people who need medical care should have access to medical care,” Saunders said.

"Twenty years ago, we were open every Tuesday and stayed until 9 or 10 p.m. We're finding less people falling through the cracks. The need seems to have declined."

Dr. Michael Saunders, clinic medical director


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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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