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Schmeeckle Foundation awards $535K to local groups

FAIRMONT — Recipients of the sixth round of grant gifts from the Schmeeckle Foundation were announced Tuesday at Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont.

A total of $535,376 was awarded to six recipients, the largest gift of $474,000 going to Apple Tree Dental to establish a non-profit community clinic in Fairmont to serve people with unmet dental needs.

Wade Abed, Schmeeckle Foundation trustee, explained that the foundation is basically a family foundation established for the betterment of Martin County in three areas: early childhood care and education; the disabled and elderly; and promotion of the arts. Its mission is to carry on the legacy of longtime county resident Juanita Ellen (Teubner) Schmeeckle to award grants within the county to create measurable change for its residents.

“It’s not just for Fairmont. It’s for Martin County, not just in population centers. It gets us out to the smaller areas,” Abed said of the grant awards.

In addition to Apple Tree Dental, recipients include: Fairmont Area Schools, $14,176 for its Celebrating Families program; Martin County Pheasants Forever, $7,700 for its No Child Left Indoors introductory program to conservation; Martin Luther High School, $20,000 for its Making Music with Children program to increase the number of musical instruments available to students; Project 1590/Kids Just Want to Have Fun, $19,000 for its miniature golf course located next to the Fairmont Aquatic Park; and Jannesa Nelson, $500 for her Girl Scout Gold Award project to put up a hammock village in a Fairmont park.

Abed gave special praise to Nelson for her prepared and thorough presentation on the hammock village that “was off the charts” and stood out among the approximately 70 grant requests the foundation received.

Abed introduced Dr. Michael J. Helgeson, CEO of Apple Tree Dental, saying that the $474,000 grant for Phase I of the Center for Dental Care represents a great collaboration between the Schmeeckle Foundation, Mayo Clinic Health System and Apple Tree Dental.

“I think the impact in Martin County will be tremendous,” Abed said.

Helgeson was inspired to establish the non-profit Apple Tree Dental by his grandfather who never turned anybody away from his dental practice, even during the Depression. Now in its 35th year, Apple Tree has grown to have seven sites in Minnesota: Madelia, Coon Rapids, Fergus Falls, Hawley, Little Falls, Mounds View and Rochester.

In 2018, Apple Tree employed more than 200 staff and clinicians and provided more than 96,000 visits and screenings at 145 partnering sites such as schools, nursing homes and hospitals.

“This is just one of the most exciting projects in our 35-year history,” said Helgeson, crediting the Schmeeckle Foundation trustees and Mayo Clinic Health System for the partnership and support. “We’ve had a whole team working on this project for quite some time.”

He introduced Amanda Siem, currently director of the Madelia clinic, who will run the Fairmont clinic after it opens.

Helgeson calls the Apple Tree care model a community collaborative practice. Instead of a small individual practice, a community collaborative practice reaches out to deliver oral health services where people live, go to school or receive other health and social services.

While the Fairmont Center for Dental Health will be located in the former infusion area in northwest corner of the medical clinic building, services will extend to mobile sites. A truck hauls equipment to a site where it is unloaded, and the next day staff provides a full day of services.

“We are fully equipped so we can pretty much provide any dental service that we could provide in a clinic,” Helgeson said. “And we are there on a regular schedule throughout the year. This is not a health care thing that’s just once a year.”

There is a great need for dental services in the area, he said, citing more than 1,000 patients on a waiting list at the Madelia clinic. About 4,300 Martin County residents were enrolled in Minnesota Care or Medical Assistance but did not get any dental visits at all.

The Fairmont Center for Dental Health will follow a four-phase plan over five years. The first phase will include launch of the outreach clinic in early 2020. Phase 2 will include construction of a permanent center on the Fairmont Mayo campus, and Phase 3 will develop the mobile dental program.

The final fourth phase will create an IV sedation suite to provide advanced services for people with complex behavioral, medical or dental problems.

“It will be the only place in southern Minnesota with those kinds of services,” Helgeson said.

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