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Boreal Community Media

Sawtooth Mountain Clinic celebrates 40 years of quality healthcare

Jun 24, 2019 08:30PM ● By Editor
A large crowd turned out to celebrate the Clinic's 40th Anniversary.  All photos from Boreal Community Media

From Boreal Community Media - June 25, 2019

A standing room only crowd of patients, former and current care givers and community members gathered Monday at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic as the federally qualified community health center celebrated its 40th anniversary.  

In 1979, after 13 years of rewarding but tiring solo practice, Dr. Roger MacDonald joined together with Drs. David Hilfiker, Bill Gallea, and Barbara Banks to brainstorm a better way to do health care in Cook County. These physicians wanted a care model that emphasized quality, compassionate health care for all, offered a wide variety of services, and could withstand the ebbs and flows of this county’s population. What they were envisioning was a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) and in June of 1979, after receiving their first of many federal grants, Sawtooth Mountain Clinic was established.  For forty years, the Clinic has continued to deliver on this vision of providing quality healthcare to Cook County community members regardless of their ability to pay.

The celebration program included music by Grand Portage artist Briand Morrison and Roxanne Berglund and food and beverages catered by James and Christie Marshall.  Carol DeSain, longtime Chair of the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic Board of Directors, led a program celebrating the Clinic's 
history, key milestones and vision for the future.

The program began with a welcoming reception of Dr. Catherine Hansen, the newest M.D. at the Clinic.  Hansen was introduced by Dr. Farchmin.  Dr. Hansen started at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in October 2018. She attended the University of Minnesota Medical School and completed residency at the University of Minnesota – North Memorial program in Minneapolis.

Sawtooth Mountain Clinic Board President Carol DeSain (left) and Dr. Jenny Delfs.

Ms. DeSain then addressed the gathering to look back and pay tribute to the 40 years of service to the community from Sawtooth Mountain Clinic.  She pointed out to key milestones over the Clinic timeline and talked about the isolation that Cook County community members both love and yet presents challenges to quality healthcare.  She spoke about how Cook County is not one place but many places.  And how community members take pride in our independence.  She said we quickly learn "we are on our own, help is not coming, but we figure it out."

Rick Anderson spoke on behalf of the Clinic Board and the Grand Portage Tribal Council.

Rick Anderson addressed the group as a member of the Clinic Board and on behalf of the Grand Portage Tribal Council.  He agreed with DeSain saying "this is not an easy place to live, but the Clinic has adapted to provide quality health care for all of us"  Anderson then introduced original Clinic physician Dr. Roger McDonald who also addressed the group and said "health care is a basic human right, not a privilege.  We have to continue to fight for this right against well-organized resistance."  Talk to the politicians and make your feelings known, said McDonald.

The event also highlighted the long time contributions of its CEO Rita Plourde who announced her retirement earlier this year after 38 years of service at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic.  Plourde recently received from "Hero" award for Minnesota Rural Health awarded by the Minnesota Department of Health for her significant contributions to rural health in Minnesota.

In a moving tribute, Dr. Jenny Delfs talked about the countless contributions Ms. Plourde has made to the clinic's growth, including raising over $20 million in grant funding in her 38 years of service.  "She has served this Clinic with tenacity and dedication" said Delfs.  Delfs cited that Rita's leadership has resulted in an eleven year average tenure for physicians at the clinic.  "It is no small feat to recruit doctors and Rita has been uncommonly successful. She keeps us thriving and staying,"  Delfs continued, "Rita has made us more than a team, she has made us a family."

Rita Plourde thanks the audience.

At the conclusion of Delf's remarks, Rita Plourde addressed the audience and thanked them for attendance and all the speakers' kind words.  As she finished, she received a standing ovation from the assembled audience.

Community members were also asked to make a donation to the Clinic's Giving Tree program to commemorate the anniversary.  The Giving Tree funds are distributed to Clinic patients at the sole discretion of its caregivers to help defray the cost of out of town medical treatment expenses.

Watch a video on the history of Sawtooth Mountain Clinic here.