It seems to have passed in the blink of an eye.
But 30 years ago a small group of young doctors who were residents together in St. Paul had a vision of a opening a clinic together. They worked at what is now Region's Hospital, but were familiar with Brainerd through trips or family ties.
They created Brainerd Medical Center.
Sunday, at a 30th anniversary open house at the clinic, those same doctors now with a little more gray in their hair, were shaking hands with patients. One questioned a doctor if he remembered removing a gall bladder in 1983. They viewed a slide show of staff photos. An early consensus was they did not look as cool as they thought they did in the 70s. And they had more hair.
Dr. Ronald Sorenson remembered the early discussions of the clinic's future when they wondered if 12 doctors would be a good number.
"Twelve has come and gone," Sorenson said, seating in a waiting area at the clinic as the open house anniversary celebration wound to an end. Sorenson's daughter, who came to her father's work place as a child, is now a practicing physician there.
"That gives you a sign that a lot of time has passed," Sorenson said.
The core originators of the medical clinic were Drs. Don Wennberg, Ron Sorenson, Jim Gelbmann, Paul Milloy, Don Monda, Dale Hadland and Jim Kuusisto.
Wennberg, who saw the clinic's first patient in 1974, remembered meeting with the group of family practitioners who would join the young clinic. It was the summer of 1975. They met over dinner at the old Harold's Club in Brainerd. Wennberg had recently returned from a trip to Europe and paid the bill with traveler's checks. He said it gave the other doctors pause, wondering how stable the fledgling group was. Wennberg said they remind him of that dinner with frequency.
Dr. David Boran joined the clinic 27 years ago. Boran, Wennberg and Sorenson sat together and recalled the early busy days and lots of work. Looking back, they agreed they would do it again.
-- Sept. 27, 1974 Brainerd Medical Center incorporates as a professional corporation with seven core physicians.
-- In 1981 BMC moves to its current site on South Sixth Street after outgrowing sites at the corner of Fourth Street Northwest and Washington (now Colorz for Quilts) and a place in the Tyrol Hills Shopping Center.
-- In 1985 the clinic building expands by 50 percent with 14 physicians.
-- In 1993 BMC merges with Lake Region Clinic.
-- In 2001 BMC begins a $9 million building expansion doubling the medical center's size. BMC employs 275 and has 175,000 patient visits per year.
-- In 2004 BMC celebrates 30 years, has a staff of more than 270 full-time and 30 part-time employees, including more than 50 doctors.
Curt Nielsen, BMC administrator, joined the clinic in 1977. He said he wasn't sure contemporary doctors would take on the risk of starting such a clinic today. Wennberg said there are not many places like Brainerd, which combined a need for physicians with a great potential for growth that came to fruition.
"We were very fortunate we came to the right area at the right time," Sorenson said.
The group practice helped spread the on-call responsibilities. Nielsen said he thinks physicians who go to rural communities do so for the right reasons and they are not just chasing the biggest paycheck.
"I just knew it would work out," Wennberg said. "We were very fortunate."
Medicine changed during the years with technological advances and more outpatient care, but the doctors said the relationship with patients endured. The clinic is a fee-for-service facility and is the largest physician-owned clinic in outstate Minnesota. There has been little turnover in the doctors.
What the future may hold is anyone's guess. Wennberg said unless the clinic builds a parking ramp it could not expand in its present location. Nielsen said they see a need for primary care in Baxter. A satellite clinic may be the answer there while retaining the facility in Brainerd, Boran said.
As doctors and business owners, the group's cohesion survived differences of opinions. Nielsen said doctors could disagree about issues but it never became personal.
"I think that was magic," he said.
"It was tested," Sorenson said of the group. "It wasn't all rosy. But we stuck together. It was for the good of the group -- for the good of the community."
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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