What does America Recycles Day have to do with Community Health Centers? More than you think!
NACHC had a chance to chat with Mari Freiberg, CEO/Executive Director, and Samantha Knutson, Public Relations Specialist at Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers in Cashton, Wisconsin. NACHC staff have been lucky enough to visit Scenic Bluffs over the past couple of years for National Health Center Week events—we learned about an amazing e-recycling event they’ve begun hosting, and wanted to shine the spotlight on them today, in recognition of America Recycles Day.
NACHC: Tell us a little bit about your health center—what’s unique about Scenic Bluffs, and what are you most proud of?
SBCHC: Scenic Bluffs is a rural community health center located in Cashton, WI, with sites in the neighboring communities of Norwalk, Viroqua and Sparta. Cashton is a farming town, in the heart of Wisconsin’s Old Order Amish community, tucked in the driftless area of western Wisconsin. In addition to serving our rural populations, around 20% of patients served at the Health Center are either Old Order Amish or native Spanish speakers - generally first generation immigrants who have come to the region to work in a local meat packing plant, or on local dairy farms.
Many say the most unique thing about our facility is the Amish horse barn in Cashton, where Amish can park their horse and buggy during appointments. While it may be unique to others, it’s just very normal for us. We have a robust community presence; partnering with area public schools in many ways, offering physical activity initiatives and focusing on social determinant outreach. In fact, we’re part of over 49 different local coalitions, boards and groups in the communities we serve. We know our patients have barriers to obtaining primary care and we take our responsibility to address those barriers (food, transportation, housing, safe activities, language) seriously. We do that through brief interventions during patient visits in all departments, screening for social determinants through PRAPARE and through outreach in community.
NACHC: Today is America Recycles Day, and for the past few years during National Health Center Week, you’ve hosted an e-recycling event. Can you tell us more about that, and why you decided it was an important service to offer to the community?
SBCHC: The idea to do this as a community outreach event came about originally after a remodel of our Cashton facility, when we needed to find a way to dispose of our old electronics. Local, safe electronics recycling options were few and far between and so, when we found an option for our equipment, we thought we’d do something for the community as well. Living in farm country, we had also been looking to advance our efforts around environmental health and water quality and were working on getting a permanent medication drop-box. It happened that National CHC Week was around that time and so we tied it all together. We knew there was a community need to drop-off unwanted electronics for safe disposal, and we thought we could get people to come and see our remodeled space too.
We weren’t exactly sure what to expect for our first event in 2016, but by the end of the 13-hour event, which was spread over a two-day collection, we collected more than 15,000 pounds of electronics. The response took us by surprise, and we realized there was a clear need for this service in our communities. Our Board of Directors committed to providing this free of charge service event again. In 2017, we partnered with our amazing multi-national business based in the region -Organic Valley- for support, and prepared to collect around 15,000 pounds the second year. But, once again, the response was surprising and we doubled our total to more than 34,000 pounds collected in year two. For year 3, this summer, we rented a semi-trailer to ensure we would have enough space, but that truck was filled 3 hours into the event. We ended up collecting more than 43,000 pounds, in a 6 hour period, filling close to 2 semi-trailers with unwanted electronics.
We are so proud of this event. For us, it’s community outreach that really promotes the tie between public and environmental health- a Health Center’s space. The cost is not insignificant (we have invested more than $16,000 into the event so far), but our community members wouldn’t necessarily have an option to safely dispose of their electronics without it, especially since it would entail a drive to a location about 25 miles away and would come with an expense that some cannot afford.
Since 2016, we have kept more than 92,000 pounds of recyclable electronics out of landfills. Each year, we have people bringing in equipment that has been tossed in streams, ditches and fields. Every time we see that, we feel really good about the effort.
NACHC: Has the e-recycling event brought more awareness to Scenic Bluffs, brought in new patients, or helped with your advocacy efforts?
SBCHC: It’s clear the community appreciates this event. Almost every person who brings in old equipment thanks us for putting it on, as they had some sort of electronic taking up space in their house, basement, garage or shed for years. It has helped with familiarity of Scenic Bluffs and where we are located—while we’ve been around for 25 years, there are still people in the region who don’t know us and what we do. Everyone who drops off stuff gets a hello and a hand delivered postcard through their car window with information about us and why we do this event. For those interested, we give tours of the facility too during that time.
This is promoted primarily through social media, radio and newspaper, and it’s gotten our name in front of a lot of people. The event promotion draws people, who may not use us for primary care, to our Facebook page and website.
Importantly, it serves as a teaching opportunity to share that we are more than just primary care. Scenic Bluffs takes the community in community health center very seriously. We know our responsibility is to create a healthy community and stewardship of our land and water is essential for good health. We are proud to be able to provide this service.
Kudos to the Scenic Bluffs team for all the amazing services—health care and otherwise—that you provide to the community. Keep up the great work!