In 1974, a group of Native American Methodist ministers saw a dire need in their community. A large population of Native Americans living in the Oklahoma City metro area needed easy access to solid – and free – health care. They came together to found the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic. What began as an all-volunteer effort with a staff of less than 40 serving hundreds of patients has grown into an organization of 130 health care professionals serving 18,000 patients from federally recognized tribes. Additionally, it sees 50,000 outpatient visitors each year. Today it contributes $14 million to the state’s economy. As the clinic approaches its 40th anniversary, it’s moving forward with ambitious expansion plans for its West Reno facility in Oklahoma City.
“The clinic has one guiding, overall mission: providing excellent health care to American Indians,” says CEO Robyn Sunday-Allen. “We do this by providing accessible, comprehensive care in a culturally sensitive environment with highly qualified staff.”
Today, all of the services provided by the clinic are still free. The clinic and its partner, Indian Health Service, is funded by the federal government. Patients need only be members of federally recognized tribes.
For two decades the clinic registered roughly 250 new patients each year. Over the years, more Native Americans have moved off of reservations and traditional tribal lands to urban environments. Nearly 80 percent of the state’s Native Americans live off reservation. A plunging economy has also left many jobless and no longer working at companies that provide employees with health benefits. They turn to the clinic for much-needed health care.
One of the clinic’s biggest supporters is TV and film star Mark Harmon. Each year, he brings celebrity friends to Oklahoma City to play a softball game to raise funds for the clinic. “If we can lend three days of our time and impact this place, like, you know, obviously we have,” Harmon said in a recent CBS News interview. This year’s game was cancelled due to bad weather, but he guarantees he’ll be back in 2014. He and his friends did manage to sign some autographs and bowl with fans during this year’s trip to OKC.
“It’s exceptional to come back year after year and see the results of the success of the charity. The clinic is putting our efforts and the money we raise to good use and making progress with the children they serve. This is why we do it. To actually come back and lean against the wall that we help put there means a lot to us,” says Harmon.