St. Mary’s Health Clinics: Growing to Meet the Needs of Community

Serving the community has taken on new meaning for St. Mary’s Health Clinics since the pandemic.

While the organization has long served the Latino population, its reach expanded dramatically since city, county, and state health officials asked St. Mary’s to provide support for Covid-related services.

“This work gave us a huge footprint in the metro area, particularly with the Latino community,” says executive director Susan Gehlsen. “And we proved ourselves to be a trusted provider so demand for all of our services has exploded.”

Core to St. Mary’s success is that many employees are Spanish-speaking members of the Latino community in the Twin Cities. “They are very relational,” says Gehlsen. “They provide health education in ways that truly build trust and understanding, especially with people who are undocumented. And our outreach manager is doing a bang up job reaching a population that is often overlooked.”

Gehlsen says it has been important to take services to places that are trusted and comfortable for the populations St. Mary’s is serving. “We go to churches, community centers, schools. For example, last week, we had a flu and Covid vaccine clinic at Incarnation Church that served more than 300 people.”

St. Mary’s health workers are also on site at the Mexican consulate every day. Approaching the work with community at the center has led to opportunities to serve other populations, including Somali and Karen people, Gehlsen says.

St. Mary’s regular clinics continue to grow as well. Three years ago, the organization opened a twice-monthly medical clinic in conjunction with students and faculty in the St. Catherine University physician assistant program. Today, the clinics combined see more than 2,000 patients in nearly 5,500 visits—and those figures do not include all of the people served through outreach efforts. All services—in the clinics and in the community—remain free of charge.

Gehlsen says that keeping pace with the growth can be a challenge. “Growing resources, including staff, is a pressing priority,” she says. “It’s a wonderful place to work, with truly committed people.” She points to Ary Diaz, a St. Mary’s community health worker who recently taught staff and volunteers about her Day of the Dead traditions. “The offrenda, an altar and offering, has quickly become part of our culture and has now spread throughout the Province. It’s an example of how this community learns and shares together.”

Executive Director Susan Gehlsen says it has been important to take services to places that are trusted and comfortable for the populations St. Mary's is serving.