By: Laura Schulte, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
A new free medical clinic for those who can't afford health care may be coming to downtown Wausau.
The First Presbyterian Church, 406 Grant St., has proposed a free clinic in a portion of its basement, according to documents submitted to the city. The clinic would offer primary care services to uninsured and under-insured low-income residents in the area, especially the homeless. The clinic is the brainchild of Dr. Jeffrey Oswald, a family practitioner with the Marshfield Clinic.
Oswald, who practices at Wausau's Stettin Center, said that after years of volunteering at The Salvation Army warming center, he felt moved to open a free clinic, a resource that the community didn't have.
"Some people just weren't getting access to care," he said.
Oswald began talking with The Salvation Army about using some of its space for a clinic, but there wasn't enough room in the building. That's when he turned to the community for ideas, and someone suggested the First Presbyterian Church in downtown.
"They were enthusiastic about it from the start, and they had the space," he said. "It was never a question of whether they were going to do it."
Since then, Oswald has been working closely with Jeff Todd and Chuck Schlitz, who are elders of the church, to finalize planning and find the perfect location in the church's large building. Though the clinic will be located in the church, patients will not be required to be a member of the church or subscribe to the beliefs of the church, Oswald said.
The group settled on a portion of the basement, which has enough space for four exam rooms, a waiting room, large restrooms and storage, among other rooms necessary for a medical clinic, said Todd.
"The church has been looking for a use for the space," he said. "We were more than happy to jump on board."
Over the past several months, the team has been researching free clinics, talking with other professionals in the area and drawing up plans. The church has approval from the city for the clinic, but there's no set date as to when construction would begin or end. The team will have to raise money for construction and costs.
Initially, according to the proposal, the clinic would offer acute treatment, meaning that patients would be treated for colds, the flu and minor injuries. According to plans, the clinic would operate two afternoons per month, from 2 to 6 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays, and the staff would be volunteer-only, Todd said.
According to the proposal, the Marshfield Health System, Ascension Wisconsin North Central Region and the Marathon County Health Department have indicated their support for the clinic.
Oswald said that the free clinic won't work against any of the other resources already available in the community, such as the Bridge Community Health Clinic or North Central Health Care.
"We're really not trying to duplicate anything," he said. "We really want to collaborate."
According to Katherine Gaulke, the executive director of the Wisconsin Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, there are 90 clinics throughout the state that offer free services to communities, covering 60 counties. She said she's excited to see the potential addition of a clinic in Wausau. Although Bridge Clinic offers services to those with Medicaid in the city, there is still a gap of people who are unable to afford their own insurance but are above the threshold for help or might be waiting for health insurance to start after a waiting period at a new job, she said.
"Folks who don't have access anywhere else will get help," she said. "It will save individuals thousands (of dollars) and save the health system and the community thousands."