Bringing quality health care to rural South Dakota

Posted on September 15, 2017

Paula Jensen
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Imagine you live in a small community and your town’s only dentist wants to retire. The closest dental clinic will now be at least forty minutes away. It’s a problem many rural areas face—and it’s one of the reasons Horizon Health Care exists in South Dakota.

“We currently provide medical, dental and mental health care services to 31 clinics in 22 communities across South Dakota,” explains John Mengenhausen, CEO of Horizon Health Care. “Just like decent housing and good paying jobs, having access to medical and dental services is important, especially if that access is in danger of going away.”

In the case of Wessington Springs, Horizon Health Care was able to help the community’s longtime dentist transition into retirement by providing two full-time Horizon dentists to the area.

“It’s generally easier to work with an existing clinic that needs our help with staffing or services than to start a new clinic from scratch,” says Mengenhausen. “We have to be creative and flexible sometimes, but we work hard to help our medically underserved rural communities.”

Because of their similar missions and values, Horizon Health Care is a valuable partner to Dakota Resources. The organization was a major sponsor for RuralX17 and offers health care services to many of the Dakota Resources communities.

“We align ourselves with committed partners like Dakota Resources because it helps us all when we work together,” explains Christine Konechne, COO of Horizon Health Care. “RuralX is a place that fosters relationships between rural communities and economic development leaders. The more they connect with each other, the more they connect with us. That helps us all grow in the long run.”

When it comes to growth, Horizon Health Care added eleven new medical and dental services in small towns across rural South Dakota over the past two years, either merging with other health care centers or opening new clinics. Services are available based on a rigorous needs assessment, which is conducted by Horizon Health Care prior to working with a community.

“We are a Federally Qualified Health Center, which means we work at the federal level and utilize grant money to help medically underserved communities. However, federal funding is not what it used to be,” explains Mengenhausen. “Providing health care to rural communities is expensive. We’re dealing with run-down buildings. Most places aren’t handicap accessible. We have to think about distance and transportation services and all kinds of things that go beyond traditional medicine. This is why we started the Horizon Health Foundation. Gifts and endowments are used to sustain quality health care across rural South Dakota—100% of donations go to patients in need who cannot afford health care.”

Establishing a foundation is just one way Horizon Health Care strives to do more for the people they serve. The Horizon staff is encouraged to volunteer and give back to rural communities. They volunteer on boards and coach kids and take part in community activities. All fifteen board members use Horizon Health Care clinics.

“We understand rural. Our patients are people we know. We go above and beyond medicine to work with community members,” says Konechne. “This is probably how we’re most like Dakota Resources. We care about rural. Rural is at the heart of everything we do.”

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