Community clinics prove assets in COVID-19 fight

But their value extends far beyond the pandemic

As COVID-19 vaccinations become more accessible to the public, some marginalized communities are seeing that option made available to them through community health clinics. Pitching in to combat the pandemic is but one of many valuable services they provide, as they are often the backbone of medical care for underserved populations.

Four established local clinics in the Twin Cities have consistently served these communities, which often face barriers to health care that include transportation, affordability, medical literacy and discrimination. The clinics also provide patients with health care that leaves them feeling respected, empowered and valued.

Allina Health East Lake Street Clinic

Allina Health East Lake Street Clinic primary services include family medicine and pediatrics, internal medicine, midwifery, ob/gyn, and lab and imaging.

This clinic also provides services that support patients between visits, such as Matter Boxes that are meals and snacks and care packages for babies, including diapers, wipes and formula.

“[We are] finding ways to care for people as a whole person, not just caring for their specific medical condition,” said Spencer Cahoon, the clinic’s primary care clinic manager. Cahoon said he finds that caring for the whole person can truly impact a person’s health.

As soon as COVID-19 testing was made available, the East Lake Street Clinic began testing approximately 80 patients per day with a curbside option. Since testing demands have significantly decreased, the clinic is now completing tests inside only. Patients are checked in and immediately taken to an examination room to reduce exposure. The clinic also conducts anti-body tests to determine previous infections of COVID-19.

East Lake Street Clinic held a pop-up vaccination clinic on March 6-7, and 640 community members received the Pfizer vaccination per the Minnesota Department of Health’s (MDH) guidelines. This event was held for community members in specified zip codes who commonly face medical access barriers.

Similar events will be hosted by Allina Health throughout the Twin Cities in an effort to make the vaccine more available. Approximately 80 vaccine doses are available daily for administration in the clinic on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8 am to 4:30 pm.

Allina Health East Lake Street primarily offers the Pfizer vaccine, but the vaccination brand is subject to change based on federal and state availability.

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NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center

NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center, originally Pilot City, was established in 1968 in North Minneapolis. The mission of NorthPoint is to provide culturally responsive primary health and social care. NorthPoint Health offers medical, dental, behavioral health, and human services.

NorthPoint’s human services programs include a community food shelf, housing and family assistance, domestic violence support, addiction protection, and child services. There is also a drive-up curbside pharmacy.

In response to a significant decline in wellness check-ups and immunizations in children, NorthPoint created Healthy Kid Saturdays. These weekly events are open for healthy children to get examined and updated on their vaccinations, and to schedule necessary appointments.

Since the spring of 2020, NorthPoint has tested close to 10,000 people for COVID-19. NorthPoint offers nasal swab testing that has a 24-hour turnaround for results.

Dr. Paul Erickson, medical director of NorthPoint, said, “One of the big concerns is the disparities we see in the vaccination rates. The African American population is 6% of the population and they have received 3.5% of the vaccines. The Hispanic population is 4.8% of the population and they have received 1.6% of the vaccines. And, Asian and Pacific Islanders are 5% of the population and they have only received 3% of the vaccines.”

NorthPoint has its own vaccination program, which it conducts out of its 1256 Penn Ave. N. building. Staff vaccinate, register and schedule patients while volunteers assist with the flow of 250 people per day.

 “About 94% of the patients that we serve are People of Color,” said Erickson. “We really want to promote health equity across the community, so that anyone who wants a vaccine can get one here.”

Following MDH’s guidelines, NorthPoint has vaccinated about 5,500 people thus far with the Moderna vaccine.

Related Story: Northpoint Health and Wellness offers COVID vaccine for 18 and up

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Open Cities Health Center

Open Cities Health Center (OCHC) was founded in 1967 in the basement of St. James AME Church to serve St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood’s predominantly African American community. Since then, the mission of OCHC has been to provide culturally competent and affordable health care for all residents throughout the Twin Cities. Open Cities offers medical, dental, vision, behavioral health and chiropractic care.

In response to COVID-19 testing disparities last summer, OCHC partnered with Mayo Clinic to create a drive-thru testing operation that successfully tested 8,000 community members. Additionally, Open Cities joined forces with a few St. Paul high-rise apartment buildings and agencies for further testing outreach.

Although there has been a halt on OCHC’s testing initiative, the clinic’s efforts have shifted to administering the vaccine. The North End location has a vaccination clinic on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays led by medical professionals and run by volunteers.  Open Cities is currently administering the Moderna vaccine per guidelines of the Minnesota Department of Health.

“People should not lose sight that preventative care is the best care,” said Dr. Cynthia Woods, interim CEO.

For the month of March, Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Open Cities is campaigning to get patients in for colon cancer screening. They are currently giving out goodie bags for those who sign up. If a second screening is needed or colon cancer is detected, OCHC is partnering with Mayo Clinic for follow-up care.

. SouthSide Community Clinic

Southside Community Health Services

This year Southside Community Health Services (SCHS) is celebrating its 50th anniversary of providing quality health care to the underserved communities of South Minneapolis. Their targeted service area is south of Lake Street, and stretches west to Nicollet Avenue and east to Hiawatha Avenue.

SCHS offers holistic care through their medical, dental, vision and behavioral health services. “Our role as a community health center is to do everything we can in the primary care setting to keep our patients healthy and out of the hospital,” said Ann Cazaban, executive director. “Let the hospitals focus on those who are really sick. We do our part so the hospitals can do their part.”

There are two COVID-19 testing options at SCHS Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The first is rapid (antigen) testing that produces results in 15 minutes. The second is the more common PCR nasal swab test that has results in a couple of days.   

SCHS began their vaccination efforts with an ongoing partnership with Sabathani Community Center to administer vaccines to the senior residents of South Minneapolis who were the first eligible participants. SCHS is currently administering the Moderna vaccine following the MDH guidelines and uses volunteers, mostly retired nurses and teachers, to ease patients’ vaccination process.

All of the clinics offer in-person and virtual appointments, translation services, and accept multiple insurances and payment options for patients regardless of income levels. They all place an emphasis on preventative care. And they have a multitude of resources in place to support patients beyond their health care needs.

Khalifa Uchechi welcomes reader responses to