By Brandi D. Phillips
South Minneapolis is home to a community clinic founded by three women physicians that has served the Native American population since 2003. Dr. Lydia Caros, CEO and one of the founders of the Native American Community Clinic (NACC), a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, told the MSR, “The three of us [founders] previously worked at another community clinic and decided to open up this clinic. It was kind of an exciting adventure, because none of us had done this before and didn’t know what we were doing, but we kind of just went with it.”
Asked what motivated her and the other founders to start the clinic, Caros explained, “It was kind of a political thing. The three of us were working at [another Native American clinic] and there were a lot of political problems and a lot of craziness going on there. The three of us ended up getting fired because we were protesting what they were doing. So, the community has this big uproar about [our firing], and so that is the point when we decided to see if we could start our own place. So that is how it started.”
One of NACC’s founders was the original physician of the clinic from which they all had been fired. “Now, there is a going back and forth [in a positive relationship] between both clinics,” she added. NACC remains connected to the community and continues to provide services to the families they love.
She continued, “The experience was pretty amazing because of the community support we received. The native community saw how much we believed in them and wanted to continue giving service to them, and they did everything they could do to help us.
“It was such a magical time. When we opened our doors in 2003, one of the first things one of our patients said was, ‘We’re home.’ This is a place where we have tried to keep that feeling over the last 13 years.”
Located on Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis, “Most patients come from the Native American Corridor on Franklin from the light rail heading west. Many Native American service agencies are in that neighborhood, so we are right in the middle of that,” Caros said.
She added, “We are a regular medical clinic. We are a fully qualified medical center. So we provide all of the basic medical services. We provide counseling services and dental services.
“I have seen generations come through the doors of our clinic. I have seen grandparents, moms, dads, and children. To have this sense of continuity with all of these families has been just amazing.”
The clinic gives patients the benefit of holistic healthcare services, so each person has access to medical, counseling, and other services to treat the whole person and not just one concern. According to Caros, “We try to normalize the idea that if your mental health is not there, your physical health is not going to be good. It does not mean you are crazy; it is just a part of the whole of us. It means that in order to be healthy, all of the parts have to be working.
“There is a lot of stigma around mental health care, so what we would like to have is that when someone comes in for their medical, they will assume something with their emotional health will be dealt with,” said Caros.
NACC has someone in the clinic most days to help if there is a crisis, but also to be there to help those who may be coping with diabetes, or having trouble sleeping, or experiencing stress with raising their children.
Caros will be retiring at the end of December 2016. “There are all kinds of emotional stuff going on with how hard it is going to be to say goodbye.” She will be taking some time off to just breathe a little, relax a little, and enjoy life. She currently does not plan to serve on the board, wanting to give the new CEO the opportunity to make their mark “without me hovering around.”
The clinic is currently in the process of hiring a new CEO, and Caros will provide orientation for the new person. One of the other founders retired about four years ago. The other founder is currently on the organization’s board but no longer works as a clinic physician.
Caros said, “Most of the generations that were [here] when we first started are gone now. We started with 10 staff, and it has just grown leaps and bounds every single year.
“We have expanded every year, we have gained staff, we have gained space and gained programs and grant funding. So, it has just turned out to be a very wonderful journey of trying to service the community and feeling that support and caring from the community all throughout this time.”
The Native American Community Clinic is accepting new patients. Visit their website at http://nacc-healthcare.org or call them at 612-872-8086.
This story was made possible by a grant from Medtronic Foundation. Brandi D. Phillips welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.