All in the family: Minneapolis teen health clinic grows into new role

Consultation
Certified nurse midwife, Christine Rangen (right), consults with Hasna Abdurahman about the clinic's patient load on Wednesday, March 23 at People's Center Chicago Avenue Clinic.
Lorna Benson | MPR News

A Minneapolis health clinic credited with helping the state drive the number of unwanted teen pregnancies to historic lows is changing with the times as patient demand wanes for its teen-only reproductive care.

After 40-plus years, Teen Age Medical Services is expanding its care to patients of all ages. With teen health needs changing, clinic leaders believe the best way to address them is by extending care to the entire family. They hope the renamed People's Center Chicago Avenue Clinic builds stronger ties with parents as it serves people of all ages.

"If you're only a teen clinic there is so many years we see you and then we have to transition you to somewhere else," said People's Center CEO Sahra Noor. "We're saying that model doesn't work because to address some of the persistent disparities, the relationship is important, the trust is important. And we're not done with that particular patient when they turn 20."

The change aligns with a transformation seen throughout health care as providers try to address all of the factors that affect a patient's overall health to get better results.

The small clinic, located in a former single-family home that still retains much of its decorative woodwork from 100 years ago, has been a fixture in the Phillips neighborhood for decades. The inconspicuous building has made it easier for teens to seek out contraception over the years.

Desiree Smith said she first came to the clinic for birth control when she was 14. Now 18, Smith continues to see clinic providers with her mother's blessing. "After a while I just got comfortable with my mom, and then, I let her know everything now," she said. "So it's not a secret."

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Smith's openness is typical of teen patients today.

Instead of seeing their parents as obstacles to their care, the clinic's teen patients are more inclined to view their family as an ally, said Dr. Steve Vincent, medical director at People's Center Health Services, which owns Teen Age Medical Services.

"They're like, 'Yep, it's OK if my parents are a part of my health,'" he said. "They want that."

Vincent wants parents involved too, when possible, because he says teen health issues have become more complicated than just avoiding pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

Gun violence, social media bullying, excess screen time and poor diets are just some of the health threats his young patients face.

"Addressing obesity and being overweight is a challenge and it's a whole family issue," he said. "It's important that it's not just the teen on their own. They really need the buy-in and support of their parents."

The expansion could be viewed as the end of an era for the teen-focused clinic. But Noor said it's really an extension of the pioneering teen work begun by clinic co-founder Dr. Betty Jerome, who died earlier this year.

"I think she would be proud and to see it continue and to change with the times," Noor said. "I really think she would be really proud of what we're doing with her legacy."