Several years after the first announcement and long after some residents have become skeptical, Vice President Bill Palmer announced at a July 16 Pine River Chamber of Commerce luncheon that bid packets will soon go out for the new Essentia Health-Pine River Clinic building.

Palmer reminded those gathered at the luncheon of the public meeting two years ago, and the topics that were important to those who shared feedback. At the July 16 luncheon, he updated everyone on the plans.

During the 2017 feedback session, Pine River and area residents said they wanted pharmacy services inside the clinic, Urgent Care, specialty care and extended clinic hours. The clinic will be designed with some of those items in mind, others may grow over time and one of them is unlikely.

“I'm pleased to share we have now acquired the Lakes Area Pharmacies that are in Pine River and Pequot Lakes,” Palmer said. “We are in the process of transitioning them into our pharmacy model. When we do build a new clinic, that service will be relocated to the new clinic in Pine River. We'll continue with the pharmacy in Pequot in the current building.”

The public is invited to a ribbon-cutting at the former Lakes Pharmacy in Pine River and Pequot Lakes, Thursday, July 25, at 11:30 a.m. in Pine River and 12:30 p.m. in Pequot Lakes.

The new clinic plan includes a pharmacy located on one end of the building with a parking lot designed to allow drive-up services at a window, so patients can fill their prescriptions from their cars.

Essentia Health has already made steps toward increasing access to specialty care. That effort will increase in the new clinic.

“We'll be able to greatly expand outreach specialty services with the larger space,” Palmer said. “Our biggest challenges today are we have had a space issue. We haven't had good space to support those specialty services.”

By comparison, the current clinic has a total of approximately 7,000 square feet and eight exam rooms. Palmer said the new clinic is 17,000 square feet with 16 exam and procedure rooms, with room to expand by as much as double on the 7.5-acre property. That extra space translates to more care providers and more services.

In addition to in-house services, Essentia Health may include some telehealth services that would allow patients to consult with physicians electronically on conditions that do not require face-to-face meetings. This could include, for example, psychiatry.

The new clinic will have three doctors plus a nurse practitioner who is joining the clinic this year and another nurse practitioner or physician's assistant to be recruited next summer.

Palmer said the new clinic will feature limited outreach for specialties like general surgery, urology, podiatry, full OB/GYN services, cardiology and orthopedics. Some of those outreaches are already occurring at the current clinic; however, orthopedics and others require too much space for the current facilities. There is also space for physical therapists, general X-ray and ultrasound.

Urgent Care is unlikely at the facility, at least at first.

“In the short run for sure, we're not going to have Urgent Care there,” Palmer said. “Part of the issue around Urgent Care is generally it takes 20,000-25,000 people to support a full-time Urgent Care. What we would like to do is expand more of an offer of walk-in clinic service during normal business hours with the option to expand those hours.”

Those walk-in clinic hours could include longer hours during the week and limited Saturday hours.

“That's something we're evaluating,” Palmer said.

Because the clinic plan was started years ago, there are already plans available. Palmer said they are re-evaluating the original plans and getting new information, but the project will soon be in motion.

“We would anticipate sending bid packages out this summer,” Palmer said. “We're anticipating that we break ground sometime this fall. The project would likely be a 12-month project. It could be more accelerated than that, but generally with kind of project we are looking at about a year. We're probably looking at the fall of 2020.”

Palmer provided concept art for the clinic, including a large facility with lots of natural sunlight. The parking lot is still being designed and layout is not yet finalized.

The public is invited to a ribbon-cutting at the former Lakes Pharmacy in Pine River and Pequot Lakes. Essentia Health purchased both pharamacies and will do a public ribbon cutting Thursday, July 25, at 11:30 a.m. in Pine River and 12:30 p.m. in Pequot Lakes.