Posted at: 06/18/2013 5:27 PM
Updated at: 06/18/2013 5:34 PM
By: John Doetkott

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Mobile Clinic Serves Rural Communities

(ABC 6 News) -- Earlier this year the Minnesota legislature passed a bill that will expand medical coverage to more than 35,000 low-income Minnesotans.
   
But often in rural areas, where poverty can still hit hard, just having access to health care can be difficult.
   
Which is why starting on Monday, a team from the University of Minnesota set up shop in Austin as a way to offer quality dental care on the go.

The team parked their 43-foot mobile dental clinic in the parking lot of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church to offer free check-ups to members of UCare, the state’s fourth-largest health insurance plan.

"This is the only option,” said Richard Fitzlaff, who was relieved to see the clinic roll into Austin for the first time.

Fitzlaff was relieved because he, along with roughly 300,000 other Minnesotans, has UCare dental insurance and said he has a hard time finding a clinic near his home in Albert Lea that accepts his dental plan.

“I don't know of too many places that take UCare,” Fitzlaff said. “This has been the handiest thing for us to do. Me and my wife both come."

That lack of access to care is why for one week a month, UCare’s mobile clinic travels to greater Minnesota to provide care for those in need.

“There is a need and we're trying to bring the services to the people that need them,” said Dr. Robert Conlin, a dentist with the clinic. “The access to care issue is one that we're very mindful of."

UCare focuses primarily on helping low income families and folks who are Medicare-eligible, and the mobile clinic is their way of insuring that folks in more rural and impoverished areas, like Mower and its surrounding counties, get the care they need.

“The numbers are substantial,” Dr. Conlin said. “A lot of people out-state go without optimal dental care. Part of it is because of geography, part of it is because of cost."

Dr. Conlin said that because of the cost and lack of access, many people don't get the service they need, which can cause big problems down the road.

“We find that they wait until the treatment that they need is much more extensive,” Dr. Conlin said. “So if we can act proactively, provide services before things get out of hand, it's a big plus."

The clinic will be in Austin for the rest of the week, but they have already filled all of their appointments.
   
Officials said they will make another stop in Southern Minnesota later this year.