An alert neighbor kept Allina Health’s East Lake Street clinic safe, now staffers are saying thanks

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Nine months after the rioting that followed George Floyd’s death, Allina Health’s East Lake clinic is preparing for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Hundreds of doses will be administered this weekend.

But managers there say were it not for an alert neighbor, things might be very different.

"Because this clinic wasn’t burned down, we’re still here," says Spencer Cahoon, the clinic manager. "We were ready to go as soon as we could open back up."

This is a story of survival and good neighbors.

"If we were to take this clinic away, where would (the patients) go?" asks Rose Johnson, the clinic receptionist. "Then, we’d have more people with health failing, and we don’t want to do that."

On May 28, 2020, several buildings in the Lake Street area erupted in flames, during the riots that followed the death of George Floyd.

"We didn’t have anyone down here from Allina, we had the clinic all boarded up," Cahoon recalls.

But he says a neighboring business was keeping watch.

Surveillance photos from the business show two men approaching the clinic.

Those corporate neighbors told the clinic the pair was trying to rip up plywood covering the windows.

"Hopped out, and started taking their tools to the plywood, I think on the backside of our clinic, trying to rip it off," Cahoon declares.

The activity got the attention of a person at that business next door.

"This gentleman from the neighboring business called down at them, shined a light on them and said, hey, I’m armed security, get out of here," Cahoon says. "They kind of went back to talking and left."

Several other buildings in the neighborhood— including the third precinct, were looted and burned.

But the clinic had only minor damage.

"If they would have destroyed it, where would people go, just like when the other stores were destroyed, Target and things like that?" Johnson wonders aloud.

The clinic, which cares for about one-hundred patients a day, opened less than a week later.

People living nearby say it’s the only place within walking distance for medical care.

"I think that was a good move on the people who were standing up for the clinic and all that," says Mark Jennings, a neighbor. "It’s a health place for you know, the neighborhood and people to go to be seen by the doctors. I don’t think anyone wanted that disrupted."

Since the unrest, the clinic has organized food drives and clothing donations— even giving away thousands of diapers.

And Saturday begins a COVID-19 vaccine clinic— serving more than 600 people.

The Lake Street facility has had vaccine clinics before.

But Allina says it wanted to ensure there was vaccine available for the neighborhood’s black and indigenous people of color communities.

"We feel extremely lucky and blessed that our clinic is still here and that our neighbors made it possible," Cahoon says. "Just really trying to find ways to not just provide what we traditionally think of health care, but what it really means to take care of a community and take care of people."

He adds he’s hopeful there won’t be any unrest in the next few weeks, as the trial of Derek Chauvin gets underway— but he says the clinic is taking precautions, including a supply of plywood if it’s needed.

Meanwhile, the plan is to give back— and give help to a neighborhood in need.

"If they had destroyed this, and they didn’t step up for us, where would we be?" Johnson says quietly.