New Native-run health clinic opens in Pioneer Square

A new Native-run health clinic opened in Seattle’s Pioneer Square on Thursday afternoon, integrating traditional Indian healing practices with full medical, pharmacy, behavioral health and substance use treatment services.

The 3,000-square-foot clinic at 124 Second Ave. S., nestled near the corner of Yesler Way, adds to the options available for culturally competent health care, after years of work by the Seattle Indian Health Board, Chief Seattle Club and a number of community partners and city and state elected officials. Clinic leaders hope the space invites both Native and non-Native patients, they said Thursday.

“Our community has been so disenfranchised by administrative services for way too long,” Derrick Belgarde, executive director of Chief Seattle Club, said at the grand opening. “We know it takes a culturally responsive approach to meet the needs of our people and our community. … Native people empower to serve Native people. We know what works for our communities.”

He continued in a statement, “For our members to have food, shelter and medicine under one roof, being brought to them by their own people, is a dream come true.”

The clinic will also offer case management services to address housing and food insecurities, among other needs. In addition, a mobile van will provide weekly dental services, according to clinic leaders.

“We’ll have the ability to do some ceremonies, like talking circles, sweat lodge, drumming [in addition to primary care and other services],” Esther Lucero, president and CEO of the Seattle Indian Health Board, said in an interview this week. “Those types of things are really core to wellness in our communities.”

She continued, “[Federally run, Native] boarding schools were designed to strip us from our traditional practices. This is reinserting that back into the culture of our community. … And for non-Native people, we’ve found our ceremonies can be just as healing.”

The space, which is located on the bottom floor of the Chief Seattle Club’s ?ál?al (which is pronounced all-all and means “home” in Lushootseed) building, welcomes patients with whiffs of cedar and walls lined with sweet grass. A series of hallways connects a pharmacy, a medical laboratory, patient exam rooms and a space for telehealth appointments, said site manager Alesia Torres.

The clinic will be run by two full-time providers, two medical assistants and a nurse, able to take patients regardless of insurance status.

Because it shares a building with Chief Seattle Club, which provides food, housing assistance, legal services and other support to urban Native community members, patients will also have access to the club’s resources, Lucero said.

“Today is an important day for Seattle’s urban Indians,” said Seattle City Council President Debora Juarez, a Blackfeet tribal member. “This clinic is an example of how community collaboration impacts the lives of our people.”

US Sen. Patty Murray, chair of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Deputy Mayor Greg Wong and Auburn City Councilmember Chris Stearns also spoke at the opening.

Earlier this year, Murray secured $1 million in federal funding to help finish the construction of the ?ál?al building. She also secured $5 million in federal funding in the fiscal year 2023 draft appropriations bill she’s working to pass this year, to support the Seattle Indian Health Board’s ongoing work.

The Seattle Indian Health Board, whose main clinic is based in the Chinatown International District, started a new, intensive outpatient program in January for people facing substance use and other behavioral health challenges. The board plans to expand those services to the new Pioneer Square location, as well as a Lake City location in September.

On Thursday, clinic leaders and elected officials cheered as Lucero, Belgarde, Juarez and Murray snipped a large red ribbon in front of the clinic entrance. It’s just the start of what they hope will become a trend toward this clinic model, Lucero said.

“We hoped we’d be a model for other communities of color of what it looks like to not compete with one another,” Lucero said. “To stand with community to best serve the needs of our people.”