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caption: Sweet grass lines the walls of clinic rooms at the Seattle Indian Health Board's new clinic.
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Sweet grass lines the walls of clinic rooms at the Seattle Indian Health Board's new clinic.
Credit: Courtesy of the Seattle Indian Health Board

A new clinic brings Indigenous health care to Pioneer Square

Last week, a new clinic opened its doors in Pioneer Square.

The Seattle Indian Health Board's newest center is located on the bottom floor of the new ?ál?al building, which means home in Lushootseed, at the Chief Seattle Club.

And with it's creation, people will now be able to receive wraparound services at the club that are all managed and run by Indigenous people.

The new clinic will offer primary care, dental, substance use disorder and mental health service, said Seattle Indian Health Board CEO and President Esther Lucero.

It will also offer traditional Indigenous medicine and cultural healing.

"Our traditional medicine apprentices can do a variety of different things," Lucero said. "So it can be anything from a cultural assessment, which not only identifies gaps and needs, but also identifies social and community strengths and cultural strengths, and begins to build upon that to be able to support healing for the relatives that we serve. They can conduct talking circles in a group setting. drum circle has been proven to be just as effective as AAA and recovery models."

Lucero added that patients "will have access to a network of traditional Indian medicine practitioners."

"It's really important that we don't take a pan Indian approach to traditional Indian medicine," she said.

Lucero said that ideology is also built into the building itself.

"Walking into an environment that is really welcoming and warm, you'll smell sage in the air, or sometimes...the sweet grass or cedar. So just smelling that medicine can bring you back home, right away."

The new clinic isn't that far from the Seattle Indian Health Board's main campus in the Chinatown-International District. But Lucero said that the new location is necessary if they want to reach more people living downtown.

The Indian Health Board location in the Chinatown-International District was only serving 500 of the 5,000 American Indians and Alaska natives receiving care at the Chief Seattle Club in Pioneer Square, Lucero said.

Opening the new clinic has come with some challenges.

Like other parts of the health care industry, the Seattle Indian Health Board has struggled with finding staffing for the new clinic. To fill those gaps, they've had to get creative.

"We've essentially been training our own medical assistants to meet the need and fill the gap there. And now we have a waitlist for medical assistants to join our team," Lucero said.

She added that the clinic is having a particularly hard time finding nurses, which they are actively recruiting for. Additionally, Lucero said, the Seattle Indian Health Board is looking for resources to support new grad nurse programs.

"Quite frankly, we've had to use a lot of resources to be able to attract new talent and to retain our staff, and to really honor the work that folks have done," she said. "So we've invested significantly there as well."

Despite those obstacles, the clinic is now staffed and open, ready for new patients.

"I think what's really important is that when folks walk in the door, healing happens. So first, they have to be greeted by people who look just like them. Who understand our cultural ways of being and knowing. Who understands that, you know, they might know some of their relatives and greet them in a good way."