The Family Tree Clinic began as the vision of a group of volunteers looking at the unmet needs in the community and realizing there was something they could do. Fifty years later, they are still using that same model: figuring out what people need and bringing it to the community on a sliding scale basis, even during one of the most devastating pandemics this country has ever faced.
“It was really important for us to stay open throughout the pandemic because so many folks rely on us for their health care,” says Alison Nowak, communications manager for Family Tree Clinic.
“We know that health disparities disproportionately impact the LGBTQ communities due to the discrimination LGBTQ folks face in health care systems and the world in general,” Nowak says, noting that it can be challenging to find health care where you feel seen. “Family Tree Clinic is somewhere people can be themselves; 60% of our patients are LGBTQ and many of the folks on our staff are part of that community as well.”
Nowak describes a noticeable slowdown in patients seeking treatment since the onset of COVID-19 that has since started picking up again with increased access to vaccinations. However, despite the hesitancy people may feel due to the pandemic, the staff at Family Tree Clinic continues to advocate for people to keep making appointments for STI/STD testing, PrEP, and annual exams.
“The most common symptom of STIs is no symptom, so testing is super important!” Nowak says, noting that Family Tree Clinic can even mail safer sex supplies to you. “The pandemic is serious, but so is ignoring health issues that are happening currently. If you’re not sure if you should come in for an appointment, it’s always worth calling and getting your questions answered. I also want folks to know that we’re sliding scale, so no one is turned away for lack of funds.”
Family Tree Clinic offers everything from birth control and rapid HIV testing to trans hormone care and sex education, reaching about 22,000 people each year. Many patients receive free services through a state-run family-planning program, while others pay a percentage of the cost based on their income. The clinic also accepts state and private health insurance.
Beyond patient services, Family Tree Clinic proudly offers an educational component as well. Parents needing resources to talk to their children about puberty, gender, or condoms can get help from Family Tree Clinic. LGBTQ and ally high schoolers might be familiar with the clinic’s peer-to-peer education program known as KiSS. Not to mention the classes and support groups offered in American Sign Language.
That commitment to helping the community as both a clinic and educational resource is a large part of Family Tree Clinic’s growth over the years. For example, their hormone care program started in 2015 and has seen a 939% growth.
“There was just so much unmet need in this area when we started and, for the last five years, we’ve not only been providing care, but answering questions and providing training to other clinics that wanted to get gender services started as well,” Nowak says. “We love that people are coming to see us from all over the Midwest, but folks deserve to have local options.”
Since the program began, Family Tree Clinic has partnered with clinics in places like Duluth and Fargo to offer more local treatment options throughout the Midwest. And now, Family Tree Clinic is constructing a new Stevens Square building to open in late fall, that will allow them to see up to 10,000 more patients per year.
“We are so excited about what we can do in this building—it’s built to have more space for community partnerships so we can learn from each other, more space for the clinic itself so we can see more patients, and it’s designed to be trauma-informed,” Nowak says. “Have you ever been in a medical space that is really maze-like and hard to navigate? Our building is the opposite of that. All spaces have natural light so you can see out, and it’s designed to be easy for patients to navigate so no one feels confused or claustrophobic when they’re having an appointment.”
Art has also always been important to Family Tree Clinic’s patients and staff, and the new building will incorporate murals throughout the building. According to Nowak, “When we’ve asked our communities what is important to their healing, art is always high on the list.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the new building, you can see a virtual tour on the capital campaign website at www.powertobuild.org.
“One simple way to support us is to get your health care through us,” Nowak says. “We would love to see you!”