There's a place at Rochester Community and Technical College where students and low-income residents can go to get help with a wide variety of life's challenges, from legal advice to emotional support.
It is Rochester's Community Health Service Inc., or CHSI, a Moorhead-based private, nonprofit organization. CHSI clinics are managed by registered nurses, and patients pay on a sliding scale, according to their income.
The Rochester clinic offers several additional programs that some residents may find useful.
In a recent Problem Solving Coaching session on RCTC’s campus, Christina Fernandez, an outreach worker, and Kathy Roberts, a registered nurse, traded off talking to their current patient.
Roberts began the session by asking Delia Guajardo where she was on a depression scale — improving steadily, she told them — while Fernandez looked up one more divorce form that Guajardo needed to serve her husband.
Later in the session, Fernandez advised Guajardo on changing her last name (“if you do it right after the divorce is final, it’s free”) while Roberts checked some of the side effects of stopping a medication Guajardo thought was increasing her anxiety.
'Made more sense for us to work together'
Roberts came to work at Rochester’s Community Health Center after retirement, using her background in psych nursing to help with counseling. However, she noticed that “half of the patients — maybe more like 70 percent — needed questions answered about resources.”
“I would have to run down to get Christina, so we figured out that it made more sense for us to work together,” she said.
Combining these services allows patients with limited transportation and ability to leave work only once during the day, to address as many problems as they can in a single session. Combining counseling with a concrete action plan is also an effective way to reduce patients’ mental burden, they’ve found.
“A lot of times, people are so stressed and depressed, they don’t see what they can change, or what they can do first,” Roberts said.
Roberts and Fernandez are part of the clinic’s mental health team, which also includes a psychologist for patients who need in-depth help. Their appointments are categorized as nurse visits — which are no cost to the patient — because of Roberts’ counseling aid.
The clinic is open in the RCTC Heintz Center, at 1926 Collegeview Road SE, even in the summer — it’s CHC’s only year-round site in southern Minnesota.
Their clientele isn’t always students. Nearly 200,000 low-income Minnesotans used one of the state's 17 community health centers in 2018.
Rochester sees close to 50 percent of the patients for all of the Community Health Centers in Minnesota. Most of their patients find them through a provider referral, Fernandez said. However, Guajardo had accompanied her daughter to a different counseling session, where she’d opened up about her marital and monetary struggles. They suggested she come back alone to work on those things.
First things first — those divorce proceedings. It was important to get things moving quickly and minimize costs.
Fernandez helped first with printing necessary documents and filling them out — “50 pages, and she didn’t even have custody to worry about” — then preparing Guajardo to represent herself in court. A lawyer, who would have cost around $1,500 “on the not-expensive side,” was out of the question. Fernandez also helped research credit agencies to help protect Guajardo’s money during the proceedings, and looked into who in the family may be eligible for food benefits, as money is tight — Guajardo’s husband left her with years of unpaid bills after leaving the state with no notice.
Although Guajardo is a patient at Olmsted Medical Center, she said the Problem Solving Coaching sessions are their own form of health care. The reduced stress had shown itself in her blood labs, which dramatically improved since her first session in early May.
“The doctor called, she said, ‘How did you do that?’” Guajardo recalled. “I said, ‘The stress walked out the door.’”