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Atwater clinic could close if patient numbers don't increase

Atwater is in danger of seeing its wellness center close its doors due to a lack of patients. The center is currently open on Mondays but is only seeing about 40 percent of the required patients to remain operational. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

ATWATER -- The theory that "if you build it they will come," isn't holding true in Atwater.

The town's small clinic is at risk of closing because not enough patients are using it.

"I'm very frustrated," said Atwater City Councilman and member of the town's economic development auth-ority. "We stuck a lot of time and money into it because the citizens of Atwater indicated they wanted a doctor here."

An average of 4.4 patients visit the clinic each Monday, the only day it's open. That's not enough to make it financially feasible.

The clinic needs 10 or 11 patients a day to stay open, Olson said.

For 30 years the town had the same doctor providing care at the clinic. When he retired in 2009, the clinic closed. Families with young children and the town's senior citizens found alternative care but continued to ask the city to bring the clinic back.

A year later the freshly remodeled Atwater Wellness Center re-opened with a new partnership with the Family Practice Medical Center in Willmar.

Staffed by Dr. Maria Loerzel, a family practice physician with special interest in obstetrics, women's health, preventative medicine and pediatrics, the clinic is open from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each Monday. That fits well with the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District's new four-day schedule.

Olson said Family Practice "bent over backwards" to hire a doctor willing to staff the Atwater Clinic.

He said if more people don't start using the clinic, the number of days it's open could be cut in half or cut out entirely.

The service will continue on a once-a-week basis for at least the next three months, said Olson, while efforts are made to increase the patient load to at least 10 a day.

The EDA and Family Practice will evaluate the usage in April and make a decision on whether to continue the service.

"If we don't get patients here in Atwater it will be gone," said Olson. "Yes, it would be a shame."

Without a pharmacy in town and the limited hours, Olson said he understands why it may be difficult for families to use the Atwater Clinic, especially when so many people go to Willmar for work and other activities.

But having a doctor in town "brings so much to our community," said Olson. "It would be hard to lose it."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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