Essentia Health hopes to expand to Cloquet with a clinic on the former Driftwood Motel property along Minnesota Highway 33.

The health care system has submitted a construction plan to the city. A Cloquet Planning Commission hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 13. The City Council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the plan Tuesday, Aug. 20, according to City Administrator Aaron Reeves.

Essentia Chief Operating Officer Brad Beard said the location works well for patients and the more than 500 Essentia employees who live in the Cloquet area.

“We felt like this was a great fit for out patients and employees in Cloquet with the convenience and ease of access on Highway 33,” he said.

Beard said the 10,000-square-foot clinic would have primary care services as well as an urgent care clinic open seven days a week. The Cloquet clinic would also offer radiology and lab services as well as orthopedics, cardiology, outpatient physical therapy and other specialty services.

Essentia hopes to start construction — beginning with the demolition of the motel — in the next 30-60 days and plans to open in May 2020, according to Beard. He said the plans include room for expansion if the patient volume warrants it.

Cloquet City Planner Al Cottingham said he doesn’t foresee any problems with approval by the Planning Commission or the City Council.

The Driftwood Motel closed in June, but had been for sale for more than four years, former owner Keith Bakke told the Pine Journal.

Essentia serves patients in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Idaho, according to its website. The company employs more than 14,000 people, including more than 2,000 physicians and advanced practitioners.

Essentia Health recently purchased the Driftwood Motel in Cloquet. The Duluth-based healthcare provider plans to build a clinic on the property that will provide primary and urgent care services as well as cardiology, orthopedics, radiology and lab services. (Jamie Lund/Pine Journal)
Essentia Health recently purchased the Driftwood Motel in Cloquet. The Duluth-based healthcare provider plans to build a clinic on the property that will provide primary and urgent care services as well as cardiology, orthopedics, radiology and lab services. (Jamie Lund/Pine Journal)

CMH: No ‘unmet community need’ in Cloquet

While Essentia submitted its plans for a Cloquet clinic, Rick Breuer, CEO and administrator of Cloquet’s Community Memorial Hospital, questioned the need for another clinic in the community when there are plenty of other areas of northeastern Minnesota with no primary care access.

In addition to the family health clinic at CMH, there are two other privately operated clinics in Cloquet: the Raiter Clinic across Skyline Boulevard from CMH and Min-no-aya-win Human Services Center on the Fond du Lac Reservation. There is also a MedExpress Urgent Care facility in the Pine Tree Plaza Shopping Center.

“There are lots of towns all over northeast Minnesota that don’t have a primary care doc,” Breuer told the Pine Journal. “They’re coming into a town with three clinics, over 20 primary care providers and an urgent care center already. They’re not meeting an unmet community need and that’s where the rub is for me — where I struggle with this a little bit. It’s just creating a super-dense community from a primary care standpoint.”

Breuer noted that Essentia is a “closed system” and doesn’t typically send patients to providers outside its network, while CMH works with all the clinics in the area, not just the one the hospital operates.

“If you go (to Essentia), they’re going to direct you to other Essentia facilities for any other care,” Breuer said. “Certainly with the other clinics in town, we partner with all of them. Wherever people choose to go to for clinical care, if they have care that goes beyond the clinic, they are often sending them to Community Memorial. We know that will not be the case with the Essentia clinic.”

Breuer believes patients at Essentia’s Cloquet clinic who need treatment unavailable there will be funneled toward hospitals and providers in Duluth instead of toward closer options at CMH or other local clinics. He said CMB can go toe-to-toe with Essentia in the quality of care patients receive, value and satisfaction.

“It’s still all about patient choice,” he said. “But here’s what I can tell you. We can demonstrate value; we demonstrate that we can provide the care at the same or better cost than Essentia or anyone else. We can demonstrate quality ��� I’ll put our quality scores against Essentia’s or any one else’s any day.”