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The College of St. Scholastica

Tiffany Schleppegrell ’15 is a case study in optimistic inertia: “You can try to plan everything out, but you can’t know how every little thing will go, so you just need to start. With every single thing that I’ve begun, I get going and then panic a bit. I’m glad I can’t see the future because I would’ve never done anything.”

Beginning her St. Scholastica journey as a transfer student, Schleppegrell earned her bachelor’s degree in Organizational Behavior (now available as Organizational Leadership) through extended campus evening and online courses. “I was very nervous about going back to school,” Schleppegrell reminisced. “I had already completed two years at a different institution and took a break to work and to save. I was impressed with the affordability of St. Scholastica’s program, and it ended up being a great fit. The classes were small and the instructors were so helpful; I still use tips I learned in my speech class all the time, and writing grant proposals feels like writing a paper worth $20,000 instead of a letter grade.”

Finding her expertise

Tiffany Schleppegrell poses in front of the Free ClinicAfter graduation, Schleppegrell made her way to Hibbing, MN where she worked for a medical billing company. At the same time, she became involved with the board of Project Care Free Clinic, which operates three sites on Minnesota’s Iron Range — Hibbing, Virginia and Grand Rapids — that provide basic medical care to uninsured and underinsured patients. Services, including lab/diagnostics, medication program assistance, diabetic education, mental health, physical therapy, immunizations and physicals (including sports physicals for students), are provided by local volunteer doctors and nurses. The top three diagnoses are diabetes, hypertension and mental health. The clinics are run by retired nurses and the volunteer list includes mental health professionals, chiropractors and more.

When the executive director stepped down in 2019, Schleppegrell, inspired by the mission and eager to do more, applied for the position and joined the organization full-time in June. She credits the skills gained through her studies as excellent preparation for this leadership role. For a small-scale nonprofit like Project Care, the director’s responsibilities include everything from managing the staff and volunteers, interacting in the community and promoting the clinic to grant writing, public speaking and fundraising. Personal experience and her work in medical billing help fuel her passion for the work, but Schleppegrell recognizes her expertise is behind a desk or in front of a crowd, not in the exam room.

Using her skills to make an impact

A Free Clinic exam room“I am not trained in providing direct care, but I’m really good at writing about it and talking and fundraising and making the volunteers feel appreciated,” she said. “Our volunteers are amazing. We have doctors and nurses, of course, who make the time to make this whole organization run. We have others in the community who want to volunteer and are willing to help make packets for us, help fundraise and get out into the community and represent us. There really is something for everyone to help with; you don’t have to be a medical professional.”

It is clear that the care provided is making a significant impact on the lives of those on the Iron Range. Schleppegrell shared story after story of life-changing appointments that met patients where they were, whether uncovering early cancer diagnoses and providing guidance for continued care or addressing diet and nutrition while providing fresh produce from the garden out back.

A sustainable approach

In addition to her full-time work at Project Care, Schleppegrell co-owns a medical billing company, Hometown Billing, and manages 16 employees with her business partner. Especially in this work, sustainability and stewardship of her own resources are of utmost importance. “I keep my three lists — my business, Project Care and personal — and I always do the things on Tiffany’s list first because if I can’t help myself, I can’t help anyone else,” she said. “I can’t control who’s coming through the door here. I can’t control what’s happening in my business with my employees. What I can control is that I can get up in the morning; I can have a quiet time to reflect on things and center myself. I can go to the gym and go for a walk, and I can get my dogs outside and taken care of. I can have clean clothes, I can have food. We’re good. Previously in my life, before I went back to school, I would only focus on helping people and I would just wear myself out the time. It’s important to learn and practice how to keep yourself going at a sustainable pace.”

Schleppegrell recognizes that taking the first step to finding care can be the most difficult, especially since the sense that “something just isn’t right” can increase anxiety around the cost of care as well as the cost of ignoring it. Her advice? Just go in, especially if you have access to a clinic like Project Care. “If you haven’t had a physical in over a year, start there. Get your blood work done, get checked out, and if nothing else, you will have updated data for a future baseline. A lot of people tough it out when they don’t have to — you’re worth it.”

Tiffany Schleppegrell poses in the Project Care Free Clinic