Sonoma County Indian Health Project nears half century as service hub for North Coast tribes
The Sonoma County Indian Health Project has a video montage posted to its Facebook page of local Native Americans who graduated last year from high school and college. Proudly displayed are the names of the newly minted alumni, their photographs, schools and their tribe.
It’s an usual role for a health center — a warm chronicle of local youth — but the Indian Health Project isn’t like other medical facilities.
“This is much more than a clinic. This is like a lot of families’ second home. This is their extended community,” said Silver Galleto, chief operations officer. “People come here for all of the resources we have to offer beyond just medical.”
The nonprofit Sonoma County Indian Health Project offers medical care, behavioral and nutritional health services, dental care and a pharmacy. Physical therapy was added last year and this month a new wellness center with acupuncture will open.
But Native American patients also come for the workshops and social events that draw on traditional culture, including basket weaving, beading, cooking, mediation, drum circles, regalia and wellness.
“Indian people have a lot of different beliefs, and we embrace those and then add those to the Western medicine practices, as well. So it’s kind of merging the two worlds into one to give the best form of health care,” Galleto said.
Founded in 1971 with a small state grant and only four employees, the health center now has an annual budget of $21 million and more than 170 employees. It serves nearly 4,000 patients.
“We are making sure that our people are being taken care of in the way that we feel they should be,” said CEO Betty Arterberry, who was a part-time receptionist when health center first opened nearly a half century ago.
The health center also does outreach to incarcerated tribal members and to remote locations, including monthly medical visits to the Kashia reservation in Stewart’s Point.
“We are wherever our people are,” Arterberry said.
A satellite clinic reopened last year in Point Arena, where it operates four days a week for medical and behavioral health services.
The new wellness center will open this month at the main Santa Rosa location. It will include three new examination rooms, an office and an open space with gym equipment in a remodeled area where medical records were formerly kept. All records are now electronic.
Patients can come in for massages, physical therapy and acupuncture — and find more holistic options when it comes to managing physical pain.
“There’s different types of healing and we want to make sure that we’re offering our traditional form as well as the modern,” Galleto said.
Challenges faced by the health center include funding, major health disparities compared to all other racial and ethnic groups and entrenched outside bias about Native American health care.
“For a long time people didn’t value Indian practices of healing as being valid. They’re doing all of these things that we’ve been doing for hundreds of years,” said Galleto, citing meditation and herbal remedies as an example. “Now they’re trying to adopt some of our practices, so the tables have turned.”