Excelsior’s myHealth Clinic Helps Get Local Youth on the Road to Wellness

How the myHealth clinics have been helping local youth for more than 40 years.
Megan Thompson (left), serves as a health educator at the clinic and Alex Larson volunteers at myHealth and serves as a member of the clinic's youth advisory board.

Alex Larson first heard about myHealth—formerly known as the West Suburban Teen Clinic—when she was 15 years old. Now a senior at Oberlin College in Ohio, Larson is still involved with the teen clinic, volunteering there whenever she’s home on a school break. “I have so many positive thoughts about the clinic. I think it’s an amazing place,” she says.Offering services to 12 to 23 year olds, the staff at myHealth hopes that other teens feel the same way Larson does about its services and involvement in the community.The West Suburban Teen Clinic was founded in 1972 by a group of clergy, parents and students out of concern for rising pregnancy rates among teenagers in the community. The first clinic opened in Minnetonka, and was moved to Excelsior three years later where it’s still located today. The clinic also expanded in 2011 to include another location in Hopkins, and between the two clinics, myHealth receives about 8,000 visits each year.“Our goal is to have people make healthy decisions,” says Jill Hogan, interim executive director at myHealth. “Our vision is that one day all young people will make good decisions regarding their health.”The clinics were originally founded to provide reproductive health care, but today, they also offer mental health care counseling and general health care services—similar to those you would find at a Minute Clinic— for teens and families across Hennepin, Carver and Scott counties. And with a mission to be accessible for all young people, the clinic works with patients to make its services affordable, often offering them for a low cost or even for free.Making a Difference One of myHealth’s most influential services is its education programming and outreach, which serves 21 school districts and reaches about 16,000–17,000 people a year. “Not every kid is going to walk by and say ‘I have to go in there.’We are able to reach out and have education of children on sexual health,” Hogan says. “It’s really in the middle of our mission.”The clinic staff also makes a distinct effort to target its services and programming at teens and the issues they’re facing in today’s world. One way it’s been able to get into the minds and lives of today’s young people is through its youth advisory board: a group of about 14 young people who represent the communities served by the myHealth clinics.“They help us make sure we have the pulse of the youth,” Hogan says. “We relied on them extensively when we opened up this clinic to find out their needs and wants.”Another way the clinics are responding to the needs of the teen community is through its home visit program for teen mothers. Clinic staff works with pregnant women or young parents, teaching them how to be self-sufficient and equipping them with the skills they need to be better parents.Today’s Teenage World Though teen pregnancy continues to be one of the most talked about issues affecting today’s youth, teen pregnancy rates have actually been decreasing since the clinic opened in 1972. Experts give several reasons for this, but some contributing factors include more education and more teens using contraception. But the biggest changes in the types of issues teens deal with are rooted in technology and easier access to information. In response, the myHealth clinics created an education program designed around cyber safety for young people and their parents, which includes topics like keeping safe on the internet and social media.“We have tried to leverage all of that with getting our information out,” Hogan says. “We try to meet kids where they’re at.” But by talking about these types of issues, myHealth hopes to make a difference in young peoples’ lives and answer those questions that might be embarrassing to ask.Larson is just one of the many teens who have been profoundly impacted by myHealth and its staff. So much so, that the 21-year-old plans to apply to medical school at some point after graduating from college.“I’ve always wanted to have a job where I helped people,” she says. “And the teen clinic showed me that someone in the medical profession can have a huge positive effect.”For more information about the myHealth clinics, visit myhealthmn.org or call 952.474.3251.