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    A medical home for those in need

    The Lake Area Free Health Clinic has been providing medical and dental care to low-income residents of Waukesha County since 2001

    GMTODAY.COM, The Enterprise
    May 4, 2023
    By Chris Barlow
    Special to the Enterprise

    Link to The Enterprise Article

    OCONOMOWOC — Tapping into an array of volunteers from the health care industry, Lake Area Free Clinic serves as a valuable resource for low-income, uninsured residents of Waukesha County.

    The clinic operates two days a week and provides medical services including primary care, cardiology, dermatology, physical therapy, hepatology, neurology, orthopedics, OB-GYN, nephrology, mental health and psychology.

    Employing over 200 volunteers including ten specialist doctors, and five full-time equivalent employees, the clinic is available to the estimated 16,000 Waukesha County adults who are medically uninsured. To be eligible for care at the clinic, an individual must have a household income at or below 250% of the federal poverty level, which is currently calculated as $36,450.

    "Everybody from front desk to lab to pharmacy to nurses, interpreters and an array of volunteers are necessary to make the clinic run," Executive Director Mary Reich said. "What is not available here, we have access to those resources out in the community."

    Seeing a great need in the community the concept for the clinic was given a boost by Betty Schumacher in 2000 and was up and running within a year.

    "It took a while to figure out how to go about this, but we laid the groundwork in a very solid way," Schumacher, the clinic’s founder, said. "The biggest thing that happened to us is the way the medical community responded to us."

    To get the clinic open, Schumacher and others had to figure out how to fund it and create the organizational structure.

    The fundraising effort proved fruitful from the beginning when the ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital jumped on board.

    The hospital gave the fledgling operation a boost by providing a $40,000 grant. An additional $15,000 was raised through other donors giving them about $55,000 with which to get the doors open.

    "It helped us to get started and we knew we had some backing and we could start planning," Schumacher said.

    In the beginning the clinic was open one night a week but in 2006 they added a second night. The current hours of operation are Tuesday and Thursday from 4-7:30 p.m. The first and third Thursday of each month they open at 1 p.m.

    The current and future path for the clinic is steered by a board of directors that are all volunteers. They are also largely responsible for what the clinic has accomplished thus far.

    "They are wonderful and allow us to do whatever it takes to fulfill our mission," Reich said.

    The clinic started out operating out of a building on Lapham Street but in 2008 a group of volunteers in their 60s and 70s led by Mark Knickelbein came together to remodel the new home on Armour Road.

    "Their tireless efforts turned the clinic into a comfortable and welcoming space for patients in need," Marketing & Development Director Megan Welsh said. "In 2017, when the need for a dental clinic was identified, Mark and his team of volunteers came together once again. ... And built a beautiful dental clinic that has since accommodated over 25,000 dental patient visits."

    Mark passed away in 2019, but his legacy of care for others lives on through his children and their families who organize a yearly benefit for the clinic via a cribbage tournament. In just four years, the tournament has grown, raising $52,900 this year alone.

    "This amount will subsidize the cost of dental care for 536 patients," Welsh said. "The Knickelbein family has done a remarkable job in honoring Mark's memory and continuing his legacy of care for others."

    The patients are expected to make an appointment and to provide the financial documents needed for verification to receive care. That includes all the general and specialty care and the resources to find insurance.

    "We want the patient care to be successful. With that, we ask them to manage their care after they leave the clinic," Reich said. "If they come in and are not eligible, we will help them that day and then refer them for further care."

    To help ensure success the clinic’s partners step up in a big way. For example, ProHealth provides all the labs and x-rays and the Pick ’n Save pharmacy helps with medications the patients need.

    "Our volunteers work with pharmaceutical companies to get free prescriptions," grant writer and greeter Linda Yergens said. "We are able to get about 80% of our patients’ medications free of charge."

    Reich said that without those community partners they could not do what they do. They also work to transition about a hundred patients a year out of the clinic and into insurance.

    "A ‘navigator’ will assist them through the process of the establishment of insurance for their healthcare." Reich said. "We have case managers who are the thread of continuity for the patient."


    Notable Heroes in Health Care: Dr. Robert Schwade

    Dec 13, 2022

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    In 2015, childless adults were able to get Medicaid and, for the first time, many low-income adults in Waukesha County had dental benefits. However, few dental providers were accepting new patients because of the extremely low reimbursement rates.

    Lake Area Free Clinic in Oconomowoc decided to add an adult Dental Clinic to serve low-income Medicaid and uninsured adults. Kathleen Schwade was a psychologist at LAFC and heard about the idea. She suggested that her husband, Dr. Robert Schwade, a dentist nearing retirement, may be able to help.

    Schwade, who had a private practice for more than 40 years and served on the faculty of Marquette University School of Dentistry for seven years, offered to be the LAFC volunteer dental director.

    He worked on the dental task force, studying models, visiting sites and determining what type of operation would be sustainable. In 2017, LAFC opened a six-chair dental clinic at its facility at 856 Armour Road. In 2019, with a 300-person wait list, LAFC opened a seventh chair.

    As volunteer dental director, Schwade oversees clinic operations, serves on the board of directors and is the liaison between the LAFC’s medical and dental clinics. In his time with LAFC, Schwade has provided more than 2,600 hours of volunteer service.

    Since 2017, LAFC has had more than 20,000 dental patient visits.


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