For 50 years, the United Family Medicine clinic on St. Paul’s West Seventh Street has catered to the working poor and underinsured patients, including today many East African immigrants and neighborhood residents.
And the nonprofit health center has done so hand-in-hand with Allina Health, a 12-hospital, 90-clinic health network that has provided the majority of the clinic’s physicians, 21 medical residents, electronic records, lab services and even their phone line.
Now, Allina is in the process of pulling out all 21 medical residents and finding another location near United Hospital where the medical residents can complete their three-year rotations in family medicine.
By the end of the year, the faculty physicians are expected to follow them, leaving the clinic nearly devoid of primary care doctors. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners are expected to pick up the slack under the clinic’s new model of team-based care.
“The pandemic certainly has accelerated changes in the health care system,” said Sara Criger, president of United Hospital, who said medical residents and faculty had complained of patient scheduling and other issues at the clinic, hurting the reputation of Allina’s residency program.
Criger added: “There were problems that United Family Medicine needed to address. As the clinic made changes, we had to determine if they meet our requirements or not, and it became apparent that they did not.”
The deteriorating relationship between the community health clinic and Allina has led to finger-pointing on at least three sides.
CALLS FOR CEO TO RESIGN
Alarmed by a lengthy period of employee furloughs and other emergency management steps, a group of former United Family Medicine board members and West Seventh Street advocates have laid blame on the health clinic’s leadership and called for them to step down.
Those advocates include former United Family Medicine board chair Andrea Marboe, longtime West Seventh Street activist Marit Brock and former St. Paul City Council Member Dave Thune.
“We’ve totally lost confidence in the program and they should stop funding them,” said Thune, who is circulating a petition calling for major funders to sever ties and for United Family Medicine Chief Executive Officer Ann Nyakundi to resign.
“We want a neighborhood clinic with doctor-patient relationships, real family physicians that follow you to the hospital,” Thune said. “She walked in and six months later turned the clinic upside down. We just prefer she leave now.”
Nyakundi and Jonathan Watson, CEO of the Minnesota Association of Community Health Centers, said operations at the clinic have stabilized since the start of the pandemic.
“When I inherited the clinic, our 2020 budget at the start of the year was actually worse than it is now,” said Nayakundi, who stepped in as CEO last October after the previous CEO resigned. “We’ve done a really good job efficiently navigating the pandemic and staffing to demand. We temporarily had furloughs, but we’ve brought all of the staff back, and we’re actually in a period of growth.”
Critics, including former board