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Family Practice nurse practitioner to begin seeing patients in small town

Lisa Bjornson paints the clinic in Atwater that beginning May 4 will be served by a nurse practitioner from Willmar's Family Practice Medical Center. The move occurs one year after Atwater's only doctor, Stephen Olsen, retired, forcing residents to drive elsewhere to receive care. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

A small town's desire to provide health care for its residents, especially its elders, has resulted in a new relationship with a medical provider and a new focus on wellness.

Beginning May 4, Laura Winn, a certified nurse practitioner from Willmar's Family Practice Medical Center, will begin seeing patients in Atwater. Winn will be moving into the city-owned clinic, which has been renamed the Atwater Wellness Center.

The transition is happening one year after Atwater's only doctor retired, forcing residents to drive elsewhere for care.

Local officials have said the lack of a local medical provider has been especially difficult for senior citizens who don't like to drive, or can't drive, to larger towns like Willmar.

Last year, after Dr. Stephen Olsen retired after serving Atwater for 30 years as part of his job with the Willmar-based Affiliated Community Medical Centers, city leaders were discouraged to learn that ACMC was not able to provide a new physician to staff the clinic.

Atwater's Economic Development Authority actively sought out other providers from different communities, like Litchfield.

This week, Shane Hagstrom, president of Atwater's EDA and a member of the City Council, announced that an agreement has been negotiated with Family Practice Medical Center of Willmar to provide a nurse practitioner as well as two additional staff members.

Initially, Winn will be in Atwater from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Tuesday. Those hours could expand in the future if the client base grows. Winn will also continue to work at the Willmar clinic.

Atwater's EDA and Family Practice have a "united belief in rural medicine and the importance of smaller community access to quality health care," said Dr. Andrew Hoffmann, Family Practice medical director, in a news release.

Hagstrom said he's pleased that Gary McDowell, administrator at Family Practice Medical Center, was "willing to work with us in a very positive way on the development of a clinic model."

The city is giving the entire building a facelift and a new name to fit with the philosophy of the new and existing tenants.

The town's dentist, Jan Greening, will continue to be housed at the Wellness Center, and last month the Living at Home Block Nurse Program moved into a newly remodeled space in the center.

Block nurse program director Connie Feig, who works to keep elders living independently, said sharing space with the nurse practitioner will complement the community's efforts to provide a continuum of care for residents.

Feig, a member of the EDA committee that sought a medical provider, praised community leaders for "thinking forward" and pursuing health care and wellness for the town with a joint venture contract between the city and Family Practice.

Loren Klaphake, health information manager for Family Practice, was at the facility this week measuring rooms for new medical equipment and accessing technology needs.

He said expanding services to the satellite center in Atwater is a good a fit for Family Practice. "We're excited about meeting the people in Atwater and helping them out with their health care needs," he said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750