The main objective for Pam White to starting her own clinic was to better provide culturally specific health care for Black women and girls. White, a local certified nurse practitioner who started the Health Empowerment Resource (HER) Center in the city’s North Side two years ago, says she believes in “cultural care.”
“Cultural care simply means that the person who’s caring for you understands the culture…the treatment and the end care of that individual,” she explains. “There are few African American healthcare providers in Minnesota… I think there are some things that are different in our culture, things that need to [be said] in the room that other people may not be able to say.”
Yet not all of their clients are Black women; White says the clinic sees women of other races as well as men. However, “When you come in here, you are going to see a Black person at the front desk. You are going to see Black art and things that represent our African heritage. And we talk about culture here, helping people understand who we are as Black folk. Born here in the United States or in Africa, we are all Africans.”
The HER Center relocated at their present site on Lyndale Avenue North at the beginning of the year. In the new facility they have a full clinic, an upgrade from the two-room clinic in the previous facility. White estimates that HER Center’s client list is around a hundred patients.
She is also visible in the community. “I go into the community and we do testing and education. I talk to people, girls’ groups, and mentor girls and women not only on sexual health but also our overall physical health,” she adds.
The clinic’s specialized focus is to care for patients who have been diagnosed with HIV. “I think I am one of the few providers who say…that I want to cater to that population,” admits White, who adds that her inspiration came after attending a conference a few years ago where she heard a speaker call HIV/AIDS an epidemic and say it is “now a Black woman’s disease.”
“It was like getting hit by a brick,” she recalls. “I knew the rates were bad, but I didn’t know it was that bad. I thought about me, my granddaughter, and what her future would be. Are we going to [continue to] exist as a race? That really hit me.”
White believes that the Black community has become too “complacent” about HIV and AIDS. “One, we don’t believe it’s true, and two, it takes willpower and strength to change your behavior.
“Eighty-five percent of the people who are infected by HIV [have contracted it] through heterosexual intercourse. When you look at that, it takes a whole different spin on how we need to start looking at relationships.
“That’s where I think we struggle with taking control: …practicing safe sex. And we don’t talk about it as a culture. And we don’t necessarily know to get tested and how [to] ask for a test.”
White says there are many people who are aware that they are HIV-positive but haven’t been tested because of the stigma surrounding the condition. “I think because we as a community haven’t embraced people who live with HIV, that’s why people are afraid to say to their partners ‘I’ve tested positive,’ so they are still having unprotected sex,” White says.
“I’ve also have had patients who know that their partners are HIV positive and they still have unprotected sex.”
Young people often engage in sexual activities that put them at risk without being aware of the consequences, White says. “Whether it is a man or woman or a young person that comes in, we automatically check for HIV,” says White. “We’ve made it really easy… When our patients hear the numbers, they usually say yes.”
Previously a teen mom who got interested in nursing, White now has 28 years of experience in health care. She says she had Black women as role models who told her, “‘[You can] be anything you want to be regardless of the mistakes you might make.’ The people who surrounded me at that time were nurses, and they took me under their wing.”
After she became a nurse, “I wanted autonomy and to be able to make some decisions. Being a nurse, you take orders; being a nurse practitioner…you give orders so you can manage your patients better. This is my ministry. This is what I am designed to do,” says White.
Though she may not be as well known as some physicians or others working in the community, “As far as I am aware, I’m the only nurse practitioner [with a] privately owned clinic in the state. We give care whether or not you can afford it. I don’t turn anyone away.”
White says that though the majority of patients they see have some form of insurance, they provide services to patients without insurance and regardless of their ability to pay. Sometimes that means assisting them in getting insurance.
“We’re here to serve the community and to make sure the community gets what they need to be healthy,” says White. As for the community’s responsibility, “We have to take an active role [in] making sure that we are healthy so that we can raise healthy kids. That’s what I am hopeful of.”
For more information on HER Clinic, contact them at 612-354-2629 or go to http://www.hercenter.net