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Northern Dental helps Bemidji take step toward full community clinic

BEMIDJI – Calling it a “great first step,” the Northern Dental Access Center announced Monday that a nurse practitioner will now be available on site to provide some health services to qualifying residents.

Carol Kelly, a registered nurse who recently completed her certification as a nurse practitioner, has joined the staff of the Northern Dental Access Center. She has 22 years of experience as a public health nurse and 14 years’ experience as a parish nurse at Peoples Church.

“We’re pleased to be able to take the next step toward a full community clinic,” said Jeanne Edevold Larson, executive director of the Northern Dental Access Clinic, in a news release. “Carol’s dedication to the health of our community is well-known and we are excited to her join our team.”

Kelly will provide a number of health services, including rapid HIV and hepatitis C screening.

“The purpose is to help at-risk people take advantage of early screening in a non-intimating setting,” the news release stated. “Early detection for both these serious diseases can save lives and long-term health costs.”

Other services, already available for those who meet income requirements, include tobacco-cessation support, nutrition information, blood-pressure checks, mental health screening and referrals, teen wellness checks and more.

“Someday, we hope to find a collaborating physician to allow Carol to work as a nurse practitioner and offer even more services,” Edevold Larson said in the release, “but this is a great first step.”

A 2012 exploration into the feasibility of a community health center resulted in the recommendation that additional health services be located at Northern Dental Access Center, 1405 Anne St. NW.

The effort to establish such a community health center – planned to serve underinsured and uninsured low-income residents – stalled last year as Congress cut funding.

But the Northern Dental Access Center has been able to tap some funds, from the U.S. Department of Health and the United Way of Bemidji Area, to add Kelly’s services.

“It gives clients a place to go, a nurse to see,” said Tanya Hasbargen, executive director of the United Way of Bemidji Area.

The United Way provided a $1,915.75 Venture Grant to purchase the screening kits for HIV and Hep C testing.

Existing partnerships with health-related organizations such as the Rural Aids Action Network, Clearway Minnesota, Sanford Health and Beltrami Area Service Collaborative, will help assure referrals.

To the best of her knowledge, Hasbargen said comprehensive federal funding for the establishment of a full community health center still is unavailable.

“This is a short-term solution to being able to being able to apply an expanded health-care program to low-income families,” she said.

Edevold Larson could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Northern Dental Access Center opened in 2009 to provide a dental home for people in need. Dental care and other patient-support services are provided to families who meet income eligibility guidelines or who are enrolled in Minnesota Health Care Programs such as Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare.