Tuesday, July 3, 2007
By: Julia N. Opoti
Official Impressed by Immigrant Clinic’s Ability to Serve With Limited Funds
Crown Medical Center, a small immigrant clinic that started barely two years ago received a visit in June from Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dianne Mandernach, for what she said was an example of people taking responsibility in reaching out to their communities.
“Wow, wow, wow, you guys are doing a good job,” she said upon learning that the clinic was serving an average of 35 patients a day.
Located in the bustling South Minneapolis area, Crown Medical Center provides primary and urgent care, immigration and refugee medical examinations free HIV screening and counseling and psychology services. Dr. Joyce Onyekaba, who together with her husband Chike Onyekaba, founded the clinic, said she left her job at Health Partners when she realized that the immigrant community in Minnesota had special needs.
Dr. Onyekaba cited the increase in diabetes and obesity in immigrant communities as one such a need.
“Many of my patients come from warmer climates where they walk everywhere with no need to exercise,” she said.
She said that a lack of active life and a drastic change in diet had allowed for the increase in diseases that her patients might never have been exposed to in their countries of origin. To address the problem Crown Medical Center offers community classes on nutrition and health, Dr. Onyekaba said.
While the clinic welcomes all patients, a majority of them are from the refugee community, comprising the Hmong and Somali populations. It is this unique demographic that, according to Dr. Onyekaba, makes her work both challenging and rewarding.
“When patients come in I have to feel around them and not just address their physical health being, but I also have to realize that many of them are yet to get acculturated into the fast paced American life,” Dr. Onyekaba said.
Chike Onyekaba, who is also the clinic’s manager and accountant, said Crown Medical Center has three fulltime medical staff, including his wife and Dr. Melvin Coleman, a licensed psychologist. But Dr. Onyekaba is the clinic’s only general practitioner. There are also four other staffers who help with administrative work.
Crown Medical Center has served over 4,000 patients in the past two years, according to Mr. Onyekaba.
To counter its staffing and financial hiccups, the Crown Medical Center partners with other health facilities in the Twin Cities such as Hennepin Faculty Associates, Hennepin Medical Center and Abbott Northwestern Hospital. They also work with medical interns who have been instrumental in reducing the workload.
Mandernach said she was impressed by the array of services the clinic offers, considering its modest size. She said the State government has funds for specific non-profit organizations and urged Crown Medical Center to apply for them.
“It is a community’s responsibility to reach out and understand the needs of the underprivileged members of its society,” Mandernach said.
Although Crown Medical Center serves patients who have government medical insurance, a number of them are not covered. For these patients, a sliding fee is offered: many are still not able to afford this. That makes the center eligible to apply for funds set aside by the state for non-profit organizations.
Chike Onyekaba confirmed that the clinic had begun working on registering part of the business into a non-profit organization in an attempt to garner these funds. The creation of the Crown Medical Support Services as an independent arm of the Crown Medical Center will allow patients and members of the community to receive subsidized health care services.
“Our goal is to improve the health and well-being of high risk and vulnerable population with the provision of affordable medical, mental, educational, social and other related services,” he said.