The Community-University Health Care Center Steps Up During COVID-19

At the onset of COVID-19, CUHCC set up a tent outside of their facility to test patients for the virus.

The Community-University Health Care Center (CUHCC) first started in 1966 to serve the children in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis and quickly expanded to serve people of all ages, particularly the underserved, using whole-person care. Today, that mission has not wavered, fueling a much-needed support system for the Twin Cities communities most affected by COVID-19.

“Our biggest patient population is people with Medicaid, but the duty of CUHCC is to serve a very diverse population. We have patients who come from 12 different ethnic communities, and we serve patients in more than seven languages,” said Roli Dwivedi, MD, chief clinical officer of CUHCC and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School. In this role, Dr. Dwivedi manages the “one-stop shop,” which includes medical care as well as behavioral, dental, and social services care.

“We believe in whole-person care—not just physical health, but spiritual health, emotional health and mental health,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be just the physical need. It can be the need if they don’t have a house or have a job because that’s what is actually affecting their health—the social determinants of health. That has been our mission.”

Dr. Dwivedi standing in scrubs and with a face shield.

When COVID-19 emerged—like many health centers nationwide—CUHCC realized that to continue offering whole-person care, they had to pivot. Instead of shutting down, Dr. Dwivedi and her team temporarily moved services outdoors, so that inside CUHCC, they could reshape their facility to ensure the safety of both patients and staff.

“CUHCC has done significant work in terms of launching telemedicine and clinical flows to make sure that we have safety, compliance and infection control in place,” Dr. Dwivedi said. “We developed a command center outside where we screened all patients over the span of one weekend. I don’t think we’ve ever moved so quickly.”

Fast forward to today, and CUHCC’s ability to serve their patient community, which is disproportionately affected by COVID-19, is both seamless and effective. They test patients where they are—either in the clinic, outside the clinic or in their communities. CUHCC launched their own mobile COVID-19 testing unit and has deployed the team most recently around the Cedars-Riverside community.

“We know that nationally there is a significant disparity in COVID-19 testing that affects people of color, especially the Hispanic/Latino, African American, and Asian communities,” Dr. Dwivedi said. 

And, early data at CUHCC tells a similar story. Teaching about those disparities to medical students and residents is also part of Dr. Dwivedi’s job—both at CUHCC and as a faculty member. CUHCC, an education site for more than 200 residents and medical students, has the second-highest number of learners that rotate through their facility every year. Until recently, the pandemic limited medical student rotations scheduled at CUHCC, including for Alycia Chmielewski, a fourth-year medical student. 

“I knew that I was going to learn a lot in a short amount of time, but I didn’t know that I was going to learn this much so quickly. For example, I never thought of how important religious backgrounds are in relation to fasting and Ramadan and changing medication management for these patients,” Chmielewski said. “I’m not just learning about acute and chronic medical issues. The majority of our conversations are about social determinants of health and how the community affects patient’s health. This experience has solidified my choice in pursuing a career in primary care.”

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