Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Rep. Ilhan Omar were in Minneapolis Tuesday to celebrate the expansion of a clinic that for over 50 years has been offering low-cost health care to immigrants in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. The new improvements to the Cedar-Riverside People’s Center Clinic include a walk-in clinic, a fitness center, a prayer room, and a call center with staffers who are fluent in several languages including Oromo, Somali, Spanish, and Amharic.
“As our immigrant communities continue to grow, I trust that many will seek the culturally inclusive care we offer at our facility” said Ann Rogers, the CEO of People’s Center Clinics & Services, the nonprofit that runs the clinics popularly known as People’s Center.
Omar said her family has a special connection to the clinic because she, her father, and her grandfather – all of whom were born in Somalia – benefited greatly from the clinic’s services in the past. Also, from 2014 to 2018, her sister, Sahra Noor, was the CEO of People’s Center Clinics & Services, the nonprofit organization that runs the clinic, she said.
“This isn’t just a clinic,” said Omar, whose congressional district includes Cedar-Riverside. “This is where you find community and people who actually care for you.”
Clinics like the People’s Center are important because they often step in to bridge the health care coverage gap that exists in immigrant communities and help people make easier transitions to the United States. A report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that there were great disparities between immigrant and non-immigrant access to health care. In 2020, 26% of documented and 42% of undocumented immigrants were uninsured, compared to less than 8% of U.S. citizens. Such clinics became even more essential during the coronavirus pandemic when a lot of immigrants found themselves without employment.
“As we were going through the pandemic, the lines outside of People’s Center were unreal,” said Mohamud Noor, a Somali-born member of the Minnesota House of Representatives “This expansion reflects a clear need that we have in the neighborhood.”
Klobuchar spoke about the importance of supporting immigrants as soon as they arrive in the United States, adding that it was especially important to have policies that support medical care services tailored to meet the unique needs of immigrants.
“Immigrants don’t diminish America; they are America,” Klobuchar said.
In 1970, a group of grassroots organizers who wanted to address the health care needs of students acquired an old chapel in the West Bank area of Minneapolis. They established the Cedar-Riverside People’s Center, one of the first clinics in Minnesota to offer free medical services, according to the organization’s website. The organization rebranded itself in 2003 to become People’s Center Clinics & Services and acquired a Federally Qualified Health Center. Today, it runs two health centers, including the Longfellow Clinic in southside Minneapolis. Together, they serve nearly 10,000 patients a year, offering services such as preventative care, chronic disease management, reproductive health care, pre- and post- natal care, STI and HIV testing, and dental care.
The Cedar-Riverside neighborhood has a foreign-born population of just over 36%, a majority of whom are people of color, according to Minnesota Compass, which provides research to inform the state’s policymakers. About 54% of residents speak a language other than English, and 72% of all households have an annual income of less than $35,000. The People’s Center’s flexible payment plans, lax insurance requirements and sliding scale fee system allow patients to seek care with minimal financial stress.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said that integrated healthcare is a human right. One of the aspects of the People’s Center that he admired was its accessibility, he said. Nearly half of Cedar-Riverside residents do not own vehicles, mostly relying on bikes, walking, or public transportation, according to Minnesota Compass.
“It’s about being able to walk from your home and down the block with your child who needs pediatric care, and receiving that care on the spot,” Frey said.
Jamal Osman, a Somali-born council member who represents Ward 6 in Minneapolis, said that one aspect of the clinic that resonated with him was its service to new immigrants.
“I know firsthand how overwhelming it is to get to a new country and not be able to speak the language,” Osman said. “People’s Center breaks all cultural barriers for their patients.”
Dr. Steven Vincent, a neurologist who began his career as a volunteer at People’s Center and at one time served as its medical director, said the clinic’s impact on both patients and non-patients was what attracted him to it. As a physician, Vincent said it was rewarding to be able to serve the diverse group patients the clinic sees daily.
“This clinic’s patients, physicians, staff, volunteers, and the watching community around us can all vouch for me when I say that People’s Center has touched thousands of lives,” Vincent said.
Faduma Hussein, a Somali immigrant who has been visiting the clinic regularly since 2017, shared her experience receiving quick, accessible, and culturally tailored care after she acquired fractures in her leg and collarbone.
“At the time I did not have medical insurance, but I received surgery that same evening,” Hussein said, struggling to hold back tears.
After the event concluded, Paige Bingham and her friend Elsa Linke shared a hearty laugh over some Somali food. Bingham, the director of Close the Gap, a health equity program at, Boston Scientific, said she was passionate about addressing disparities in health care.
“It’s so important for members of the community to be equally invested in the thriving of this clinic as its volunteers and staff,” Bingham said. “This provides immeasurable value in this neighborhood.”
Mahad Jama, a Somali-born businessman who owns an interpretation company, said he became emotional seeing how People’s Center had grown. Jama said he was impressed by People’s Center’s mission to transcend language barriers and reach diverse populations, which he said would greatly benefit the East African community.
“This is a remarkable clinic in a remarkable location,” Jama said. “I am eager to see what it has in store for this generation and for many generations to come.”