WEST BEND — Volunteers, donors and area businesses continue to support a mission started by one man a quarter of a century ago: to provide uninsured and underinsured community members with high-quality, collaborative health care.

Dr. James Albrecht was a self-proclaimed country doctor, caring for patients in Jackson and later throughout Washington County. Working in a rural community since graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison medical school in 1947, Albrecht quickly learned many of his patients were unable to afford his service. Rather than deny or reduce care, Albrecht accepted payment in the form of a dozen eggs or help with chores around the home, as told in his book, “The Life and Times of a Country Doctor,” published in 1992.

Throughout his career, Albrecht remained committed to providing care to everyone and reforming the Medicare system. In 1996, he fulfilled a longtime goal, establishing the Donated Healthcare Services free clinic in partnership with St. Joseph’s Community Hospital, now known as Froedtert West Bend Hospital. The clinic was staffed by doctors and health care providers who volunteered their time

Clinical supervisor Alissa Mosal sets up a patient’s telehealth visit with Dr. Doug McManus. The clinic began offering telehealth visits in 2020 in response to the pandemic with support from West Bend Mutual Insurance Company to provide care to those with limited or no medical insurance.

When Albrecht died in 2001 at age 85, the clinic continued to thrive in his memory, taking on the name James E. Albrecht Free Clinic.

Fast-forward 25 years: The clinic remains a staple in Washington County’s health care spectrum, providing medical and dental care to those who qualify.

“We feel a responsibility to keep doing what Dr. Albrecht saw a need for and to adapt to the changing needs in the community,” said Ruth Henkle, executive director.

Dental care was one of those needs. The service was added in 2016, soon after the clinic moved into a larger one at 908 W. Washington St. and set up three dental exam and treatment rooms. Privatepractice dental care is essentially unavailable to anyone in Washington County without dental insurance or the ability to pay out of pocket for it. As a result, by the time patients come into the clinic, they often need significant treatment and multiple visits, Henkle said.

Thus far in 2021, the volunteer staff has provided about 800 medical visits and 950 dental visits, said Melanie Gonring, associate director. The main limiting factor to a higher patient volume is the need for more medical and dental providers, including doctors, dentists, nurses, hygienists and other medical professionals, she said.

“We are incredibly grateful for the support we receive from the community,” Henkle said. “The willingness to help is amazing. Thanksgiving is a perfect time for us to remember all we have to be thankful for and to publicly thank those who make all of this possible.”

The clinic’s resilience amid changes in the community, the country and the world is astounding, Gonring said. One of the biggest challenges was leveled in 2020, when the clinic staff, volunteers and patients adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, switching from a drop-in clinic to one by appointment only. In spite of the challenges, the clinic persevered, thanks to support from local hospitals, the county Office of Emergency Management, United Way of Washington County and West Bend Mutual Insurance.

“Washington County is a very generous community and nothing demonstrates that like the way this clinic functions,” Henkle said. “Running a medical clinic, even with the large amounts of grants, donations and community support we receive, is expensive and challenging. It would not be possible without the help of many, many people.

“I marvel at how much of Dr. Albrecht’s dream has come true and cannot wait for what the future holds,” she said.

Although the clinic opened in fall of 1996, a community celebration is being planned for spring in hopes of reducing risks of holding a public event during a pandemic, Gonring said.

Anyone who is interested in donating to or volunteering at the Albrecht Free Clinic can learn more at albrechtfreeclinic.org. Current volunteer needs include medical professionals and Spanish language interpreters, but volunteers with all skill sets are often needed.

About Albrecht

Dr. James E. Albrecht was born in Beaver Dam in 1916. His medical training was interrupted when he was drafted into service during World War II. However, he claimed conscientious objector’s status and spent the war years working at a public service camp in Indiana and a hospital in Ohio. He returned to medical school at the war’s end in 1945, earning his degree.

In 1948, Albrecht began his medical practice in Jackson. During the 1970s, he began to undertake activities to bring about change in his community. One of the first tasks

he carried out was a petition of President Richard Nixon to have a National Day of Prayer, which took place on Oct. 21, 1970. He also worked to form a local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter and to curb teenage drinking.

Source: UW-Milwaukee Libraries archives