By Brad Hagen
The Native American Community Clinic (NACC) in south Minneapolis has been serving the urban Native community since 2003, when they first opened their doors. In that time, they’ve partnered with several local companies and organizations to provide service to as many people as possible. Their mission, listed on their website, is “to promote the health and wellness of mind, body, and spirit of Native American families.”
Their latest undertaking to enact this mission is by providing COVID-19 vaccinations in response to the global pandemic, as well as how heavily the pandemic has hit Native communities. Recently, NACC has expanded their clinic by taking over the space that previously belonged to the now closed Dollar Tree. The space is currently being used as the location for the vaccine administration.
Sarah Morris (White Earth Ojibwe), registered medical assistant, was among the first to administer the vaccine at the clinic, beginning with medical staff at NACC, then to Elders in the community (individuals sixty-five and older, per state mandate). She’s been with NACC for over eight years, making her one of the longest standing employees at the clinic and, during this time, she’s gotten to know many Elders, community and spiritual leaders, and founding members of AIM. Native Americans are dying at higher rates from Covid-19 than white Minnesotans. Reasons include a racial bias in health care systems, and a shortage of health care on reservations and isolated areas.
Morris said that when a patient first walks in, they get screened for symptoms of COVID-19. If they show no symptoms, they are then given a number and paperwork that they’re to fill out before receiving the vaccine, and are then directed to a chair that corresponds with their number, which are all spread out six feet apart. She mentioned that it was a little sparse inside, given how recently they took over the space, but it’s sectioned off with privacy and social distancing in mind.
Vaccines are currently being scheduled for Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, with thirty to forty patients being seen in the morning, and the same amount in the afternoon. There is currently a waiting list, with priority being given to already-established patients at the clinic, with the purpose of filling in cancellations.
The reason that it is so important that these cancellations be filled is that the COVID-19 vaccine must be kept cold before its administration, and it is unable to be re-cooled after a certain amount of time outside the freezer. Because of this, it is imperative that all cancellations be filled with another patient, or else the dose will go to waste, so NACC uses the waitlist as a way to reach the most amount of people while wasting the least amount of vaccine.
“My favorite part about the job is that I actually feel like I’m making a difference in people’s lives,” “I worked at the U [University of Minnesota] for a short time in cardiology, just to see if I could broaden my horizons. When I was still in school, it was always my goal to work there.” But when Morris finally achieved her dream, she realized that she missed the sense of community that could be found at NACC. “At NACC, you really feel like the people there have your back.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the best doctors in the world work at the U, and I’d recommend them to anyone, but the people I work with are almost like a family, and I missed that feeling.”
When asked what she likes about the job, Morris replied that meeting new people and hearing stories from her elders are just a couple of the many things she enjoys about NACC, but she wanted to reiterate that, “it’s really rewarding to see the change we make in peoples’ lives.” Morris told many stories of families she’s gotten to know over the years and the trust that’s been built as a result of that. She expressed that she was happy to take on such a pivotal role as vaccine administration, especially since it serves her community and the people she cares about.
For more information, visit NACC’s website: nacc-healthcare.org
Or reach them at the following number: 612-872-8086
To learn more about the Covid-19 vaccines, see: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/vaccine/index.html