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Grand Itasca’s Innovative Clinic Transforms View of Health Care

Imagine you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms during a workout at your local gym. You hop off the treadmill, grab some water and cool down. You know your congestion and muscle aches aren’t a result of your workout, so you feel you should get your symptoms checked out.

If only there was a full health care clinic on-site at your gym where you could easily receive medical attention.

That is the reality at the Itasca County Family YMCA in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Open for less than one year, the health care clinic inside the YMCA is staffed with three primary care doctors from Grand Itasca Clinic & Hospital. All three are working beyond the hospital’s four walls to integrate health care into a new kind of environment.

Rather than having community members focus on getting healthy when they’re already sick, Grand Itasca partnered with the Itasca County Family YMCA and the city of Grand Rapids to build a clinic that would foster stronger physician-patient relationships in new and engaging ways, changing the way patients receive care.

Multiple partners, one goal

Together, these organizations are helping facilitate positive change that is not only making a visible difference in the wellness of the community, but also setting a high standard locally and nationally among YMCAs.

“Other YMCAs have looked at this model and applauded the leadership of our organizations for the open-mindedness and willingness to work together,” said Cassi Chrzanowski, marketing and communications manager at Grand Itasca.

The YMCA Clinic, which opened in April 2015, is comprised of primary care doctors who see an average of 18 patients daily — providing all kinds of medical care.

“By putting a physical clinic space in a place that people go to be healthy, we hope to encourage them to focus on wellness and stay healthy,” said Chrzanowski.

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Grand Itasca and the YMCA are working together to implement innovative programs that provide the community with new opportunities to improve health and wellness.

Two of the newest programs implemented by Grand Itasca are Walk With a Doc and Doc Talk. Walk With a Doc begins with a chat given by Dr. Toni Youngdahl — one of the three primary care providers at the YMCA Clinic — about a health topic that changes every month. The group then heads out for a walk on a nearby trail or the track at the YMCA, depending on the weather. Youngdahl got the program started because of a longtime passion for community wellness and disease prevention.

“I think this is a great opportunity for patients to see their medical provider in a different light and in an environment that’s not intimidating, while talking about a topic that’s important to them,” said Youngdahl.

The other program, Doc Talk, takes place once a month in the evenings at the YMCA. Participants receive a free meal while listening to presentations about various health topics from different doctors and specialists each month.

Coaching for a healthier lifestyle

In addition to Walk with a Doc and Doc Talk, Grand Itasca’s wellness coach, Bri Solem has been working with YMCA Clinic doctors to deliver individual health coaching to a select group of patients as part of a pilot health coaching program. Each participant receives a Fitbit to monitor his or her own activity, while Solem monitors their activity remotely and then meets with each person biweekly to go over goals and achievements.

“When people come to the clinic, they oftentimes associate their visit with being sick or unwell. We really want people to start thinking of and paying attention to their health when they are well,” said Solem.

As a result of these programs, community members see the YMCA Clinic as a comfortable place to receive care. Together, these efforts are strengthening the overall health of the Grand Rapids community.