By RICK OLIVO Staff Writer
RED CLIFF, WI — In January of 1997, the staff of the Red Cliff Community Health Center wasn’t sure if they would have enough clients to use the space available in their then-new clinic.
Those concerns were quickly disabused as tribal members and others quickly flocked to the facility for primary medical and dental care that had previously required a nearly 50-mile round trip to and from Ashland.
It didn’t take long to realize that far from having too much space, the demand for services was nearly overwhelming.
“We actually didn’t know what our capacity was, because we had more providers than we had rooms, and we really didn’t know how many patients we could see,” said Red Cliff Health Center Health Administrator Patricia Deragon-Navarro.
It wasn’t long before it became obvious that a new facility was needed.
On Wednesday, the dream of a health care center large enough to serve the needs of the Red Cliff regional community came true, as a ceremonial ribbon was cut by tribal elder Elizabeth “Grandma Tiny” Cadotte, marking the opening of the new 35,000 square foot Red Cliff Community Health Center.
Located on Aiken Road, just off State Highway 13 in Red Cliff, the new facility is an architecturally striking building, with state-of-the-art facilities and environmentally friendly geothermal heating and cooling, a place where the Red Cliff Community can take charge of their own health care. It is a facility that is greatly needed, said Deragon-Navarro.
“We see about 50 to 55 patients a day,” she said.
That works out to roughly 14,300 patient visits a year.
“This is usually where people come for medical care,” Deragon-Navarro continued. “We have a lot to offer. I would say that everybody in the community uses one service or another.”
Those services include primary adult and pediatric medical care, dental care, women’s health, X-ray and radiology services, pharmacy and behavioral health care.
“We are in the process of obtaining optometry, chiropractic care and physical therapy,” said Deragon-Navarro. “We actually have space for all of those services, but we don’t have the providers hired.”
According to Deragon-Navarro, the new center will make a major difference for the Red Cliff community in terms of what medical services they will be able to receive close to home.
“We are hoping to draw in a whole new group of people; we are saying, ‘Hey, we are here. We are for you. Come see us.’”
The new facility, built at a cost of about 12 million dollars, came in under budget and ahead of time, said Doug Niesen of General Contractor Taylor-Woodstone, who described the new center as a “true state of the art facility.”
Niesen said the geothermal heating and cooling system took water from 280 feet underground, ran it through heat exchangers and used the temperature differential for both heating and cooling.
“It’s very energy efficient,” he said. “The whole building is highly energy efficient.”
“It is a good day for Red Cliff,” said Tribal Chairwoman Rose Gurnoe-Soulier during the ceremonies inaugurating the facility. “I remember being a part of the opening of our old Health Center in 1997. It was a surprise that we grew out of it so fast.”
Gurnoe-Soulier said the new facility was in the planning stages for several years until a $750,000 grant through the offices of Congressman David Obey started the process moving forward.
It was not a goal that was accomplished overnight.
“Good things take time and lots of planning goes into projects of this size,” Gurnoe-Soulier said.
She noted that added to the federal grant was a million dollars of tribal funds, and a $10 million loan from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.
“It makes one warm in the heart to see one tribe help another,” she said. “Although it has taken some time to get where we are today, it makes this day extra sweet.”