California Forum

At this health center, compassionate care for all is a gift from the Native community

The community you live in is part of who you are. Even if you do not interact with your community every day, you recognize that the decisions you make impact those around you. While community health is tied to individual wellness, it’s the understanding that we are part of something larger than ourselves that promotes a collective responsibility. Improved health status at the community level is not just about health care, but also the intersection of access, economics and social interaction.

At the Sacramento Native American Health Center (SNAHC) we are not just a clinic. We are a “health home,” where patients can access medical, dental, vision and behavioral health services – and more – all under one roof. We are committed to creating a culture of healing through connection, being among family and having a trusted relationship with your health home.

A health home is best described as a model or philosophy of primary care that is patient-centered, comprehensive, team-based, coordinated, accessible and focused on quality and safety. It is a place where patients are treated with respect, dignity and compassion. And above all, it offers care in the right place, at the right time and in the manner that best suits a patient’s needs, while also taking into account social determinants of health to reduce inequities experienced by our community.

Through community-based partnerships with organizations like Sacramento Covered, the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, the Sacramento LGBT Community Center, CalWORKS, CalFresh and WEAVE, SNAHC is able to provide numerous services that address the social determinants of our patients, including transportation, housing support, peer support groups and food programs. Screening for social determinants is a powerful tool to identify individual needs and provide support and services to address these needs through a network of nonprofit-based organizations dedicated to improving the health status of the often vulnerable populations we serve.


Richard Jones (whose name has been changed to protect his identity) is a recent patient success story that resulted from community partnerships. Richard, a veteran, arrived at SNAHC after years of housing instability, uncontrolled diabetes and untreated mental illness had taken its toll. His health was failing, and his inability to work left him facing homelessness.

Richard came to SNAHC through the city’s Whole Person Care Initiative and received housing support through Sacramento Covered. The SNAHC medical and behavioral health teams worked closely with Richard to identify the right medications to help stabilize his physical and mental health. In the year since Richard selected SNAHC as his health home, his life has continued to improve. Through community-based care coordination and support, Richard was able to find full-time employment and stable housing. He reunited with his family.

Britta Guerrero

Last year, SNAHC provided wraparound services to 18,300 unique patients, totaling 72,368 visits in one accessible location. That is 38 percent more than in 2017. This number continues to rapidly increase in an economic environment that has left significant portions of the population with little or no access to mainstream, culturally-competent health care. Because SNAHC is already uniquely positioned to address the social determinants of health, the organization plans to draw upon these strengths with current and prospective community partners. And in 2020, it will open a new health home in the South Sacramento area, which will be a fully-equipped second location with medical, dental and behavioral health.

The new South Center will be larger than our current Midtown location and serve as a nonprofit center where multiple patient-serving community partners will be co-located. The new health center site will consist of 12 dental operatories, 18 exam rooms, six behavioral health rooms, a community event space and a teaching kitchen where our Healing Ways team can teach patients and community members how to cook and prepare traditional healthy foods, as well as herbal remedies. Our Healing Ways Program offers patients an opportunity to integrate alternative, or what we consider “traditional medicine,” into their medical care.

The new center will also include a youth safe space, where Native youth can bond, learn and grow in their identity as a Native people and as Sacramento youth coming of age in a diverse community. This youth safe space concept was born out of a community needs and strengths assessment based on extensive interviews and focus groups with Native youth and community members, where the need for a safe space was overwhelmingly expressed as a priority.

Improving community health is a huge undertaking that involves cooperation between multiple organizations and partners. With the addition of our new South Center and our current Midtown location, we will continue to be a health home for all people, all types of care, all in one place, where patients can meet their wellness goals and get connected to the greater community. We are proud to build on our community’s resilience and offer strengths-based approaches in health care delivery.

We will continue to share quality and compassionate care as a gift from the Native community to the Sacramento region.

Britta Guerrero is CEO of the Sacramento Native American Health Center. She is an urban Indian, community health champion, radical collaborator, change maker and doer.
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