ST. PETER — The volunteers who recently opened a free weekly clinic in St. Peter hope the new resource fills medical gaps for the city's underserved populations.
The St. Peter Community Free Clinic opened May 16 at 201 S. Third St. It's available 5-8 p.m. on Thursdays.
Dr. Keith Stelter, who came up with the idea, said the organizing team is working to connect with patients who could most benefit from free care.
“I’ve been noodling on this for several years now after learning about free clinics that are in Faribault, Northfield and Red Wing,” he said. “I thought St. Peter would be another good place to try to start one and see what the need is.”
Stelter, the associate director of the family medicine residency program at Mayo Clinic Health System’s Eastridge Clinic, offered free medical screenings alongside other clinicians at the St. Peter Area Food Shelf last year. The clinic takes the services further, providing free primary health care like treatment for minor injuries and chronic disease management.
The clinic’s purpose isn’t to take patients away from other clinics but rather to serve people who aren’t otherwise accessing medical services. Likely patients include the uninsured, underinsured and others who encounter barriers to care.
Stelter said patients can fall through the cracks for a host of reasons. He gave an example of a worker getting laid off, losing health insurance but still needing ongoing medical care for diabetes.
“That’s a big part of what we’re trying to fill is that gap people might experience,” he said.
The clinic is volunteer run by area medical professionals. Dr. Carrie Stelter, a physician in Le Sueur and Keith’s wife, said doctors sometimes see the gaps firsthand.
“My husband and I both being physicians, you have people in your practice who can barely come in once per year,” she said, referencing contributing factors like high co-pays and job changes.
The organizers worked with Volunteers in Medicine on the idea. The national nonprofit supports free clinic initiatives, and St. Peter became the first Minnesota option in its wider network.
The free clinic occupies one end of the same building as the St. Peter Area Food Shelf. Kemmie Hebensperger, manager at the food shelf, said she looks forward to connecting clients in need to the clinic’s services.
“We want to foster that relationship to let people know they can just step right over and they'll help you out,” she said.