ST. CLOUD -- As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, we're profiling the local people or businesses that are making a positive and lasting difference in our communities.

For CentraCare Nurse Practitioner Penny Rubesh, one of those people is her colleague, Heather Qunell.

Qunell is a registered nurse and the nursing manager of CentraCare's Coordinated Care Clinic. The two-year old, referral-only specialty clinic, located in St. Cloud, exists largely under the radar.

"It's a very unique clinic," Rubesh explains. "It's basically invitation-only. You can't just walk in and get an appointment."

Those referred to the clinic are typically high-risk patients; many battle with addiction or mental health issues in addition to physical ones. Clinic nurses like Qunell, along with doctors, nurse practitioners and psychotherapists, work with patients experiencing homelessness, living in treatment centers or serving sentences in Stearns and Benton County Jails.

"A while back, the director of this clinic had been out on medical leave," Rubesh says. "At that point, (Qunell) was doing both jobs. Now, she's trying to deal with our pandemic."


The Coordinated Care Clinic sees patients both in the clinic and out in the community. Patients can be difficult to locate, making the job of caring for them especially challenging, with or without a public health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Say (the patient) needed surgery," Rubesh says. "We have to try and be there for them, helping with dressing changes, preventing infection, things like that. Our paramedic, our outreach nurses - they're trying to keep track of these people that need a lot more care, that you'd never find anywhere else."

Rubesh says she wanted to recognize Qunell because she cares deeply about patients and maintains a positive attitude, no matter how difficult the workday is.

"She's a mother, she's a wife, and she's taking care of everything at home while she's taking care of everything here," Rubesh said. "And, she's always got a smile for everyone she sees, and a hug - well, when we're not doing social distancing."


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