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Winona Health clinic to stay in Rushford

Fri, Jul 18th, 2008
Posted in Government

RUSHFORD - Winona Health will continue its clinic operation in Rushford, according to Brad Lenertz, Winona Physicians Clinics Administrator.

Lenertz spoke at the July 14 regular meeting at the Rushford city council, answering a question that had been floating around the community in recent months.

Not only does Winona Health have "every intention" of providing service in a new location-the former Rushford Hardware building--but Lenerz says that's been the organization's intention all along.

The clinic's downtown office was destroyed by last August's flood, but they've provided nonstop service ever since, first operating out of the urgent care facility in Winona, and then in a temporary location at the JMW building in Rushford.

The flood and its aftermath revealed some issues in the city's relationship with the clinic, including an expired lease on the old building. Since then, communication has occasionally come to a standstill as both sides dealt with paperwork, proof of insurance, and the time-table for repairing the basics in the old clinic location.

Speculation as to whether Winona Health was interested in continuing service in Rushford led to a citizen attending a council meeting earlier in the year to ask the council to consider talking to other health organizations.

On the other side, some citizens in support of Winona Health have openly accused the city staff of falling short in their professional dealings with Winona Health.

Lenerz's comments have put a lot of speculation to rest. But council members still had questions for him.

In light of recently announced departures of caregivers from the Rushford Clinic, council woman Nancy Benson asked Lenerz whether Rushford citizens would have the opportunity for continuous care by the same physician, as they have in the past.

Lenerz said he couldn't promise anything, adding that Winona Health will continue to try to recruit personnel for the Rushford clinic, but that "there are no guarantees."

Lenerz also pointed out that physicians from Winona have been providing relief coverage in Rushford, and that more resources (relief personnel) would be added in September.

Mayor Les Ladwig asked whether the organization had done any kind of profitability study, given what he called a "trail of patients heading out of town," as the result of both the flood and the departure of key personnel.

Lenerz commented that Winona Health did not think there had been a considerable drop in patients.

Lenerz said negotiations are still ongoing with Paul Engrav to secure the former Rushford Hardware location (also flooded) for the new clinic location, but Lenerz sees no roadblocks on that front.

Repair work has begun recently on the clinic's old location and Lenerz expressed the hope that possibly the same crews could begin working on the clinic's new location.

Transfer of flood funds denied

The council heard about a recommendation from the EDA to deny a request from Karen and Tim Wilkemeyer to have the flood funds awarded to them for their daycare which was flooded, to a new location for their business.

The Wilkemeyers were asking that the $29,882 in building funds they received as a category 1 flood relief loan for their daycare business, conducted out of their home at 402 S. Maple St., be transferred to their new home at 539 Eiken Drive, where they are currently operating their daycare business.

Karen Wilkemeyer was present to state the couple's case, which is that language in the flood recovery loan guidelines appears to say money can be transferred if a business relocates.

However, Ladewig pointed out that in practice, what has happened is that if a business was sold, flood funds transferred to the new owner. Wilkemeyer said there is a buyer for the Maple Street home, but it would be residential only in the future (not a business).

A number of points were made by the mayor and Chuck Pettitpiece, loan fund director, which showed the differences between the Wilkemeyer's request and previous transfers. Pettitpiece indicated that there was a chance some kind of transfer could have been worked out, but that the details would have to have been discussed much earlier in the process, and the committee would have had to have known at the time the original loan was granted that the Wilkemeyers planned to relocate.

Still, the council was split in their decision with Benson and Larry Johnson voting to uphold the EDA's denial and Robert Dahl and Laura Deering voting against the denial. In cases of a tie, the mayor votes as a tiebreaker, and Ladewig voted to uphold the EDA's decision.

Council members and the mayor expressed regret about the Wilkemeyer's denial and suggested that if allocated funds go unused in the future, it's possible the Wilkemeyers could apply for another category loan to make improvements to their new location.

Farewell to Pettitpiece

Chuck Pettitpiece, who has served as advisor and overseer to the loan process, was present to give a final report, now that all loan funds have been allocated.

Pettitpiece reflected that the state's Special Appropriation parameters were vague and thus "we all struggled to define funding eligibility and assure consistency in the review of applications and a basis for the assistance to be provided."

Despite the struggles, "here we are nine months later and we can feel very satisfied that we managed to work through all of these difficult questions, (though) not always to the complete satisfaction of some applicants," Pettitpiece wrote in his summary.

"The staff assembled by the City, Loan Review Committee, EDA, and City Council all took the necessary measures to assure that they were good 'stewards' of the public funds allocated by the State."

Pettitpiece offered the following statistics:

• 80 businesses have been allocated funds from the Business Recovery Program (original target was 60 businesses.)

• a total of $25,573,214 was identified to assist businesses (SEMIF grants, insurance proceeds, and owner investments-in addition to flood recovery loans)

Pettitpiece cautioned that just because loan appropriations have been completed, the recovery process is still far from over.

"The actual work of recovery and making the improvements to buildings and replacement of equipment / inventory is now the responsibility of the business owners-the funds have been allocated," Pettitpiece concluded.

Note from reporter: I need to make a correction. In a recent article I referred to Kevin Klungtvedt and Dan Fox as both being part of the Rushford Institute for Nanotechnology (Rintek). I was only half right. While Klungtvedt is listed as the president for Rintek, Fox is the CEO of Rushford Hypersonic and not a member of Rintek.

Rintek is the non-profit nanotechnology educational group responsible for bringing the nanotechnology business, Rushford Hypersonic, to Rushford.

There's been a lot of information to process in the city of Rushford in the past eleven months, and occasionally my "processor" fails. I apologize for the error.

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