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Health center opens door to may

With the launch of National Health Center Week, which runs through Saturday, the Lake Superior Community Health Center in Superior provided the city's mayor with a tour and information about the services provided there.

"We accept absolutely everyone in the community," said Jessie Peterson, grants, donations and marketing manager with the health center. "We provide all sorts of care. We have medical, dental and behavioral health."

The Lake Superior Community Health Center provides care for people with Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance, and on a sliding scale fee structure for those who don't have insurance. The health access office can help people work through the process. The clinic, founded in Duluth in 1972 and expanded to Superior in 2000, provides care to about 11,000 people last year, about 60 percent utilizing the clinic's dental services.

"They're just really unique," said Amy Losiewski of the finance staff of the health care office.

"They're just accommodating, very nonjudgmental," said Kim Kervina, a member of the board and patient at the clinics in Duluth and Superior.

Kervina first started going to Lake Superior Health Care Center when she found herself homeless with a daughter about to start high school and didn't fit the image of a homeless.

"All we had were the clothes on our back; they were nice clothes," Kervina said.

Now, working full-time with health insurance, she remains a patient because she is comfortable there, and serves on the center's board of directors.

Because the community health center is a qualified health center, more than half the board members are required to be patients, said Gayle Patterson, chief executive officer of the Lake Superior Health Care Center.

Following a tour, the mayor had a chance to sit down and talk with staff and Kervina to discuss health issues in the community.

"There's a couple of misconceptions about us out in the community, Patterson said. "One is that with the Affordable Care Act, where people have medical assistance there isn't a need for a clinic like ours. But what we find, particularly in dental, that there are very few private practice dentists in either Minnesota or Wisconsin who will accept medical assistance because the reimbursement rate is so low."

Superior Mayor Jim Paine, who served on the Douglas County Health and Human Services Board during his tenure on the County Board, said he's worked with the Lake Superior Community Health Center in Duluth through the in-home program at DRCC.

"A lot of the people I worked with relied on the community health center ... it was a literal lifesaver for a lot of people," the mayor said.

The high level of poverty in Superior, and the high rate of drug and alcohol abuse in the community pose the biggest health challenges in Superior," Paine said.

Health center staff and the mayor discussed ways the city could work with the center together to improve health-based opportunities.

Paine acknowledged there are limits to what the city can do because it doesn't provide social services, but suggested that one of the ways the city and clinic staff could work together to lobbying the Legislature to improve health care funding and increase reimbursement rates.