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Since September of 2005, residents have worked cooperatively to establish a Community Health Center to serve the northwest Wisconsin. Representatives applied for and received a planning grant to study the feasibility of opening a Community Health Center (CHC). Under the auspices of this grant, a community based advisory board was established that grew and became a governing board.  This board, 51% of which planned to be CHC patients, was formally established on May 7th, 2008. With the support of many area partners, the board moved forward very quickly to respond to an opportunity to submit a New Access Point Application to the federal government to create Wisconsin’s newest Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). Originally called Bayfield County Community Health Center, the name was quickly changed to The Lakes Community Health Center to reflect its broader goal to serve Bayfield, Ashland, Douglas and Iron counties.

After receiving notice in September of 2007 that the grant had been awarded, a 120-day clock to become operational began ticking. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) allows only four short months for grantees to have a program up and running. The highly committed board again sprang into action. Cognizant of the great difficulty of moving from a paper-start without any resources to a fully functional clinic in four months, the board met weekly or even more often for many months. They hired a part time interim Executive Director who in turn contracted with a part time Medical Director, Dr. John Schrock,  who could help with oversight and policy creation, but did not see patients. A full time RN served as Clinical Coordinator and saw to the setting up and outfitting of the clinic. After a quick remodel of a building, The Lakes Community Health Center (The Lakes) opened the doors of its medical clinic in Iron River in late January of 2008. Temporary medical providers were used for the first few months until a part time Physician Assistant and some Nurse Practitioners were hired. Services were very limited for the first year.

Because of the critical need for dental services in this area, especially for Medicaid/BadgerCare recipients, the Board began planning to open a dental clinic as early as March of 2008. The search for a Dentist/Dental Director proved easier than the search for a full time Physician/Medical Director, and Dr. Christina Dahlke (DMD) signed a contract in September of 2008, planning to join The Lakes in the spring of 2009.

In November of 2008, The Lakes hired a permanent full time Executive Director. A management team was formed, and the organization began to grow in earnest. The dental clinic opened in March of 2009 and was immediately overrun with patients. Because very few other dentists in the area take many Medicaid patients, the Board decided to focus on children with BadgerCare and emergency dental for any and all patients because this strategy offers the best opportunity to make a lasting impact on the oral health of the area. A waiting list was started on the second day and has only gotten longer over time. With one dentist, there is little hope of seeing that diminish. However, as a new start, The Lakes is committed to establishing a firm foundation before it grows.

In August 2009, The Lakes was finally able to recruit a full time Physician/Medical Director. Dr. Deborah Dryer, a Family Physician who had been practicing in the area for six years, joined the organization officially in October 2009. Since that time, medical services at the clinic in Iron River have expanded significantly to include comprehensive lab services, medical appointments available six days as week including Saturdays and many additional procedures such as colposcopy. Radiology (X-Ray), Physical Therapy and Mental Health services were made available in August of 2010.

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