"Every child deserves or has a right to be seen and have their needs taken care of."
— Connie Blackwell MANU'02
No Child Turned Away
Alumna runs award-winning pediatric clinic for underserved kids
By Amy Gage
Eighty percent of the families served by North Metro Pediatrics are on medical assistance or have no insurance at all. Even if they own a car, they may not be able to afford gas. If a child has an ear infection, the mother or father may face a choice between paying for the clinic visit or the antibiotic.
Welcome to Connie Blackwell's world.
The clinic she co-founded and runs in a northern suburb of Minneapolis is the only nonprofit, sliding-fee practice run by nurse practitioners in the Twin Cities. A 2002 alumna of St. Catherine's graduate-level pediatric nurse practitioner program, Blackwell does the work "because I've always loved kids" — and because the University teaches its students to go out and make a difference.
"The whole culture of St. Kate's is one of giving back to the community," says Blackwell, a mother of two grown children, for whom volunteering is an expression of her faith.
According to a video produced last summer by Mpls.St.Paul magazine — which named Blackwell one of its 2012 "Outstanding Nurses" — North Metro Pediatrics turns away no child for lack of ability to pay. "Every child deserves or has a right to be seen and have their needs taken care of," she tells the interviewer.
Those needs often include complications from obesity or asthma. Her patients may live in substandard housing with dust or mold, and the majority of children come from families that can't afford fresh fruits and vegetables or health club memberships. The result is diabetes, unchecked asthma, and high cholesterol and high blood pressure at "younger and younger" ages.
"Well children" checkups are a luxury these families can't afford, though Blackwell is proud of the recently expanded dental, social work and mental health services.
Described as "caring, very educated and always cheerful" by the colleague who nominated her for the MSP award, Blackwell oversees a staff of nine healthcare professionals, including six nurse practitioners who write prescriptions and work in consultation with a collaborating physician.
Funding is always a challenge, despite a supportive board of directors made up of an attorney and other professionals, and a history of success with foundation and government grants. The clinic's "month-to-month" existence is made easier by Blackwell's faith — in her God and the good of humankind.
"The Lord has provided immensely here," she explains. "There have been times when we had no money, but something shows up. A check comes in the mail."