Safety-net health care and education are priorities of St. Mary’s Clinics

St. Mary’s clinics have a long history with the community. The St. Mary’s hospital was established in 1962, and the clinics were established in 1992.

Melissa Gatten, the current executive director, said, “St. Mary’s Health Clinics is a safety net of clinics for Minnesotans who are part of the healthcare system.” They provide “safety net” visits for the increasing needs of the underserved, meaning those who have no or poor quality health insurance. “Many of [these patients] are working in Minnesota, being served in the seven-county metro community.

Gatten continued, “We have a very strong partnership with many of the health systems and foundations like Medtronic, the Schultze Family Foundation, and the Otto Bremer Foundation. We have enlisted volunteer doctors and nurses from the medical community as well as pharmaceutical providers who provide care at no cost. Clinic volunteers in fiscal year 2016 donated 10,426 hours of service, and the majority of those were medical doctors, registered nurses and interpreters.”

Service is what they do. “In the fiscal year 2016 we served 1,626 unique patient individuals, with 4,421 patient visits. About eight percent of first-time patient visits are repeat visits. We provide primary care, access to specialty care, and we specialize in diabetic education and prevention through our D.E.E.P program (Diabetes Education Enhancement Program),” Gatten added.

Those who are pre-diabetic are enlisted in D.E.E.P, where they are monitored by diabetic coordinators who work with patients in and out of the clinics. They work “with a physician in order to better understand prescribed care and track their progress, and they are followed out of clinics.

“We primarily serve the Latino community. About 96 percent of the individuals we serve are Latino. All the D.E.E.P staff are bilingual, and one is tri-lingual,” she explained.

To help the community, the clinics founded as part of a ministry of the sisters of St. Josephs of Carondelet in an effort to bring health care directly to those in need. Sister Mary Madonna Ashton, founder of the hospital and clinics, was honored for her work in Washington, D.C. last year with a National Women’s History Month award as one of 15 women who have had a national impact through their leadership.

A sister of the Sisters of St. Joseph at Carondelet for the last 70 years, Ashton retired from St. Mary’s in 2000 after working in health care her entire professional life, starting out as a medical social worker. Eventually she became the administrator of St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis, serving in that position 20 years.

For eight years she served as the health commissioner for the State of Minnesota under the direction of then-governor Rudy Perpich. After serving in that position and thinking she was about to retire, she began the process of selling St. Mary’s hospital to the Fairview system.

During this process, the community wanted Sister Ashton “to look at what the residuals of this would be, to close that organization down. As I did this, I realized that we had very talented people that were working in that office. Eventually, I called a meeting with all the Sisters of St. Joseph that lived in this area [and] that were interested in healthcare.  I expected about 30 to attend, and low and behold 100 sisters showed up that night.

“We had quite a discussion about issues in health care that were not being addressed. The result of that was to establish neighborhood clinics for those who were not eligible for some kind of insurance or government [aid] and were unable to afford the cost of medical care,” she said.

In 1992 Ashton, along other sisters, then established the St. Mary’s Clinics to serve community people and worked out a system with corporations from all the health systems in the Twin Cities area to treat their patients at a nominal cost.

Sister Ashton continued, “We had volunteer doctors from around the Twin Cities to see our patients in our clinics. We established the clinics in schools, church or parish houses, and some community centers. The first year we started five clinics. We had about 11 clinics finally around the area.

“We also had these relationships with health systems in the cities. I established [the clinics] at the time when Hillary Clinton was interested in universal health care. When I started out, I thought I would only be doing this a couple years and then we would ease ourselves into whatever that system would be. Well, it never happened, and so St. Mary’s Health Clinics are still operating in the Twin Cities area.”

Since Sister Ashton retired, there have been two others CEOs. She said of this, “The person who has taken over the job for the last couple years [referring to Gatten] is doing a great job. They have done a wonderful job in extending the clinics operations from just service to education. They do a lot of educational works throughout the clinics to help people stay well instead of waiting until they are sick to come see a doctor.”

In terms of the future, Gatten and the St. Mary’s Clinics plan to continue offering safety-net services to the community and education to help with preventative care.


For more information about the clinics, visit their website at, or call 651-287-7777.

This story was made possible by a grant from the Medtronic Foundation.

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