GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — What started as a class project at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay five decades ago has become an essential resource for those in need.
The N.E.W. Community Clinic provides health services for low-income and uninsured individuals and families in the Green Bay area. The clinic is celebrating its 50th anniversary on July 27.
“It's just a remarkable accomplishment," said Heidi Selberg, N.E.W. Community Clinic board president. "I think the people that started this project back in 1971 probably had no idea of how it would materialize and sustain itself over the years.”
It all started during a social work course at UWGB. Instructors assigned students a project to fix a social program or issue in the community. Linda Pratch, a college student and intern, found there was a gap in the availability of medical services for a significant amount of people. Pratch suggested starting a health clinic for those who had difficulty accessing health care.
The clinic, originally called the Green Bay Area Free Clinic, started seeing patients for the first time on July 21, 1971. It was housed on a second-floor apartment and offered basic health care services to people without health insurance. The clinic moved to a two-story house in 1972. As the need grew, a major fund drive allowed the clinic to move to its primary care location in 1987.
A dental program was initiated 10 years later in partnership with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. This program expanded in 2013 one year after the N.E.W. Community Clinic became a Federally Qualified Health Center, which allowed for increased federal funding. A NWTC classroom transformed into a full-time dental clinic with an employed dentist.
In addition to a community clinic and dental care, the organization also offers lead screening, mental health services, outreach healthcare programs to provide medical services to area homeless shelters, and the W.I.C. women and children’s nutrition programs to the uninsured and homeless.
“When we opened our dental program, we saw the numbers of people going to the emergency department for dental care plummet," Selberg said. “Not everyone has the ability to access conventional health services, so we see ourselves as not being duplicative of what’s available: We see ourselves as filling those gaps where people might not otherwise be able to receive services.”
The clinic started offering the COVID-19 vaccine to patients in January in an effort to bring the shot to underserved groups in the area.
Kim Franzen, CEO of the N.E.W. Community Clinic, said they've partnered with local Asian grocery stores, organizations like Casa ALBA and Brown County Public Health to meet this mission.
“We've really continued to move forward with our COVID vaccination efforts to look at the underserved patients, those patients that use our clinics, and then really partnering with our community to see how we can assist (them)," Franzen said.
As the clinic prepares to celebrate 50 years of being in the community, Franzen said she hopes they can continue to help those in need for many years to come.
“We know that there’s probably a lot of unmet need that we’ve not been able to touch yet," Franzen said. "So, my hopes are that the stability of the clinic will continue like it has for the last 50 years, and will be able to sustain, and really move forward our services and reach more people.”