The long-awaited Pine River Essentia Health Clinic project received approval from the Essentia Health board of directors as of May 22.

"The biggest thing that occurred is our board of directors approved moving forward with the project," said Vice President of Operations Bill Palmer. "We have board approval now so we're able to move forward and complete the planning process and move forward with the project."

Palmer said almost nothing has changed since the early planning began more than a year ago when the clinic was first announced. It will take most of the summer for official plans and blueprints to be approved.

"We have preliminary plans we've drawn up and have completed now," Palmer said. "We're going to go back and reassess and review those plans and make sure they're consistent with our goals and strategies we have for providing care and meeting healthcare needs in the community. We wanted to step back and reassess that."

Palmer expects plans to move quickly now that the overall plan has been approved.

"We expect that work will happen through the summer, and we're hopeful we'll be breaking ground by fall," Palmer said.

The new facility will be 17,000 square feet, on land between the Pine River State Bank and Pine River Post Office that Paul and Lynn Hunt sold to Essentia Health. The new facility will allow expansion of services and staff at the Pine River Clinic.

Currently there are three doctors in Pine River. The new facility will include two nurse practitioners with room for expansion.

"We'll offer lab and X-ray services as we do today, but the footprint of the clinic will allow us to expand our primary care access," Palmer said. "We have the capacity to add to that. If we someday have to add another doctor or nurse practitioner, we have space to do that."

The facility will also expand specialty care, possibly including cardiology outreach, orthopedics, podiatry, urology, OB-GYN, general surgery, physical therapy and mental health.

"Then we'll also have a retail pharmacy in that clinic," Palmer said. "We plan to have that in the clinic with a drive-through service option as well."

The project has been a topic of discussion since 2017 when a visioning session was held at Bites Grill and Bar in Pine River. Since then funding issues and other projects have led to delays. Palmer maintained throughout that time that the project was still on the drawing board.

Now that plans are in motion, Palmer was happy to announce the board's approval.

"I'm really excited about this," Palmer said. "I think this will help us to better serve and meet the health needs of the community in Pine River and the surrounding area for many years to come. We are excited about it and excited about what we will be able to offer to the community for not just primary care but also specialty services."