Elevating the art of healthcare

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June 21, 2010
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie
When you enter the Mill City Clinic — a posh primary care provider in the Zenith Condominiums — you might mistake it for a hotel or an art gallery.

The waiting room is referred to as the lobby. It boasts high ceilings, sleek modern furniture and artwork provided by the Nina Bliese Gallery — an aesthetic that complements its urban neighborhood home to gems like the Gold Medal Park, the Guthrie and the MacPhail Center for the Performing Arts.

But don’t be mistaken, while the Mill City Clinic might look like it only provides healthcare for the elite, it’s serving patients from all walks of life.

“I don’t think people realized how democratizing the effect of good architecture would be,” said Dr. Jon Hallberg, the medical director of the clinic and a family medicine physician. “We truly see everybody here from the homeless to heads of corporations.”

The clinic — an off-campus access point to the University of Minnesota Physicians —is not just impressing people in architectural circles, either. It’s posting impressive numbers on the financial side, too.

The 3,800-square-foot clinic opened in the fall of 2008. It had a 60 percent increase in revenue growth from the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2009.

On average, the clinic sees about 150 patients a week. Besides Hallberg, the clinic has a staff of nine and a team of volunteers that help staff the front desk.

The clinic provide a full-spectrum of primary care healthcares services that cover people from “cradle to grave,” Hallberg said. The exception is obstetrics.

One of Hallberg’s specialties is performing arts medicine — a perfect fit for the area given the clinic’s proximity to many of the region’s major arts institutions. He’s a contributor to Minnesota Public Radio, too, and makes frequent on-air appearances to discuss medical issues in the news.

He’s very personable and sets the tone for a friendly environment in the clinic. The approach is winning over patients.

Hallberg told the story of one patient who wept when he was given a cup of coffee by someone at the clinic. He lives in subsidized housing and has bipolar disorder.

“It was a simple act of kindness,” Hallberg said. “I think we are a fantastic example of a medical home of the 21st century — a medical home with compassionate, coordinated care.”

An as for a home, it’s one in pristine condition. The exam and meeting rooms are free of the paper clutter you’d typically find in a health clinic. Medical supplies are tucked away in cabinets and the furniture is functional and high-end. The end result is that you’re left feeling more calm and comfortable than you’d typically be in a more traditional medical setting.

It’s also a place that opens its doors to the community for a wide variety of functions, said John Spohn, a senior associate with Perkins + Will, the firm that worked on the design of the clinic.

“We wanted to reflect what’s happening in this area. This is a new urban neighborhood,” Spohn said. “This is one of the first attempts ever where a new urban clinic is integrated into a neighborhood contextually in terms of some of the design elements. The clinic is committed to sharing the space with the community.”

One of the more unique events hosted at the Mill City Clinic is Hallberg’s Hippocrates Café, which uses performers to explore broad medical themes in classic works, such as Shel Silverstein’s “Sick.”

The theatrical event is hosted in some unfinished space behind the clinic. Eventually, the clinic plans on expanding its services into that area.

Hallberg has been practicing medicine for 15 years and while his work can be taxing, it’s also deeply satisfying.

“I love my daily interaction with people of all walks of life — that my job is so much about listening to stories,” he said.


Mill City Clinic
What: A primary care healthcare provider affiliated with the University of Minnesota Physicians
Where: Zenith Condominiums, 901 2nd St. St.
Hours: 7 a.m.–7 p.m. Monday–Thursday; 8 a.m.–5 p.m Friday and 8 a.m.–noon Saturday,