Byline: Nicole Harris; Staff Writer
Brandon Wittrock, 7, started taking the long, exhausting car rides to twice-a-week physical and occupational therapy when he was 6 months old and diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
His home in Burnsville was, with traffic, an hour away from Gillette Childrens Hospital in St. Paul. So when his mother, Sheri Wittrock, learned that Gillette was opening a clinic in Burnsville this month, she counted it as a blessing.
'Oh my gosh. I was ecstatic,' she said, sitting in the waiting area with Brandon and Shelby Ginder, 22, Brandons personal care attendant. 'All the traveling is hard for him if he's having a tired day.'
With rapid population growth especially growth in the number of children south of the river, health care providers are responding to the increasing demand for pediatric care.
Gillette Childrens Specialty Healthcare opened its Burnsville clinic on June 21. Fairview Health Services will open its new family practice Fairview Lakeville Clinic in late July.
The new clinics add to a growing collection of health care services aimed at least partly at meeting the needs of children in Dakota and Scott counties.
The Northfield Hospital Board is considering opening three clinics to serve Lonsdale, Elko/New Market and Lakeville/Farmington. Family medicine, pediatrics, orthopedics and obstetrics and gynecology could be offered.
Groundbreaking for an expansion at St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee is scheduled for this fall. It will include a new bed tower and patient care unit to the north of the hospital, and the emergency department will expand by 10,000 square feet.
The 2000 census showed that 32 percent of the residents of Scott and Dakota counties were under age 20.
Brandon, who will be in second grade at Orchard Lake Elementary School, is one of 2,100 Gillette patients who live in Scott and Dakota counties. They made more than 9,000 visits to Gillette facilities last year for treatment and checkups.
Population growth was the main reason Gillette chose Burnsville.
'The decision seemed to be straightforward,' said Kathryn Wardrop, vice president of marketing for Gillette.
Gillette considered not only demographics, but also its own growth, and it found that the percentage of patients from Dakota and Scott counties was increasing.
Gillettes Minnetonka and St. Paul clinics were at capacity. Freeway access to the Burnsville location and the proximity to medical resources at Fairview Ridges Hospital made the decision easy.
'Health care is very local,' said Jean Abraham, assistant professor in the department of health care management at the University of Minnesota. 'People don't want to travel too far, and providers are recognizing that people dont want to go very far.'
Fairview chose Lakeville because of large numbers of patients living in the Lakeville, New Market and Elko areas, said Lisa Moorhouse, Fairview Lakevilles clinic manager.
Fairview has other clinics in Apple Valley, Prior Lake, Eagan and Burnsville. The Lakeville clinic, which will be at 10450 W. 185th St., is 2,500 square feet and will have a staff of five.
Gillettes clinic is on the second floor of the Ridgeview Medical Building at 305 E. Nicollet Blvd., on the Fairview Ridges Hospital campus.
It has 25 employees, including eight doctors who also will see patients at other clinics in Duluth, New Brighton and Minnetonka. Five are new employees and the rest transferred from the main campus in St. Paul or another Gillette clinic, said Gillette spokeswoman Barbara Grogan.
Closer to home
The new Gillette clinic less than 4 miles from the Wittrocks home. Another plus is the free parking.
Brandon is gearing up for his 21st surgery, on July 28. It will help strengthen his legs so they can better support his body.
One of Brandon's doctors told his mother that walking a few feet for Brandon is the same as her strapping on a backpack filled with rocks and walking up three flights of stairs.
'I just want him to have this surgery,' Sheri Wittrock said, 'and let him start being a kid.'
When Tonya Knuesel, one of Brandons occupational therapists, learned about the clinic, she moved to Minneapolis from Rochester and the Mayo Clinic so she could work exclusively with pediatric patients at Gillette in Burnsville.
Wittrock said that one of the things she likes about Gillette is that Brandon doesnt even realize hes working because the therapists make it so fun.
'These kids who are dealt these challenges are amazing,' she said as she watched her tired son doing walking drills with physical therapist Jean Kelecic.
'They are not quitters. He just keeps going.'
Nicole Harris is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
STORY IN BRIEF
TREND: Pediatrics is a growing specialty south of the river. New clinics are opening to serve residents.
BENEFITS: Busy families save time previously spent driving to the Twin Cities for appointments.