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Native American Health Center looks for new primary and dental care facility near Richmond BART

on September 9, 2011

The director of a Native American mental health clinic in Richmond said on Thursday that the organization has been looking to expand its presence in the area to include primary and dental care near the city’s BART station.

The Native American Health Center, which serves residents across Contra Costa County, has been working for the past four months to locate property to open a clinical care center because transportation has proved a barrier to access.

“I think transportation is a big issue, because a lot of our community relies on bus or BART,” said Katherine Lewis, the NAHC program director and social worker. “And BART doesn’t go way out there, so it’s hard for them to make it here if they have children. It’s just a lot to carry a stroller, and have little kids and get everybody here.”

Courtney Cummings, a prevention assistant who helps field the center’s community outreach, said she often has to direct patients who come in for primary care check-ups or dental exams to the NAHC offices in Oakland and San Francisco.

Having the new clinic near the BART station would increase access for patients coming from east Contra Costa and other nearby communities, Lewis said.

The NAHC center on 23rd Street, near MacDonald Avenue, would add a triage component and maintain its on-site mental health counseling and community events, which include drum circles and cultural presentations. Primary care and dental appointments would be scheduled at the new facility.

“Hopefully, we’d like to retain this [downtown] center, because it has a community feel to it, but definitely, we’d like to have another facility,” Lewis said.

Lewis said the center saw its client base rise by more than 100 new patients in the past year, their target growth figure for the coming year as well. Most of those patients come for the free mental health counseling, but many have expressed a need for medical and dental services catered toward Contra Costa’s more than 6,000 Native Americans, Lewis said.

Basic care, such as check-ups, would be provided free of charge at the new center, but Lewis said she has been exploring ways to provide affordable coverage in the area for larger procedures that would require referrals.

The NAHC Richmond office has been open since 2009, and will celebrate its two-year anniversary in October.

Cummings said in its short time here the center has made an impact on the city’s Native American community, in which many members struggle to find people who share similar emotional issues.

Cummings said the counseling sessions focus on treating mental health issues, such as depression, by raising cultural awareness through drumming, listening to a song, or knitting a shawl.

“They’re searching for their roots,” Cummings said. “To have this center here is like a burden lifted off of them, because now they have a connection of a Native American Health Center to help them in their search.”

Lewis said a large part of Native American mental health issues stem from a conflicted self-image and lack of exposure outside of the Native American community.

“It’s really hard to feel good about yourself when you’re not hearing good things about yourself,” she said.


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