Evolving Leadership at United Family Medicine

left to right) UFM Board Member Ann Poole Nyakundi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and UFM CEO Melissa Parker at the Community Health Center Roundtable. Discussion focused on strengthening community health centers, and how federal, state, and local leaders can help support the important services they provide to communities across the country. Melissa Parker explained, “Adverse employment conditions, social exclusion, gender and race-based inequities, housing instability — we see them all at our Community Health Centers. We don’t just provide access; we build healthy communities, which are only possible through the services we provide our patients.”
   One of the key issues Parker discussed was the affordable medication crisis. She underscored how critical the federal government’s 340B Drug Discount Program has been to help keep prescription medication costs down for patients who need them most. She also advocated for funding to support whole health, stressing the importance of services provided on the front line by interpreters, patient advocates, lawyers and social workers.

by Jerry Rothstein

After 18 years in a variety of management roles, Melissa Parker has become the Chief Executive Officer of United Family Medicine, the West End’s innovative and equitable resource that serves people from all over the city and beyond. She started as the business services manager, became the Chief Operating Officer, and along the way was Project Lead in the design and development of the new building at Randolph and West Seventh, named the Peter J. King Family Health Center in honor of one of its most dedicated donors.

Melissa is a St. Paul native. Brought up by her single mom, she attended Open School and took her BA at Metro State in Human Services. She volunteered as a Candy Striper in a nursing home and got her Nursing Assistant certificate at 17. Her experience was formative — because she was excited about working with the residents and wished the facility was better-managed, she started to think of a career in nursing home administration.

As she started her career, she worked in the business and administration end of things — something of a loss as she moved further from direct work with patients or residents. She came to UFM after a time at University Affiliated Family Physicians, wanting to continue to broaden the scope of her work but maintain some contact with patient care.

Coming to United Family Practice Health Center, she appreciated the diverse patient population and the breadth of services offered to them, modeled by pride in the community and team compassion and quality.

When she became Chief Operating Officer in 2009 she continued with her earlier roles and added administrative supervision of all operations, including clinical and nursing.

In 2009 UFM moved to its new center, purposely built to accommodate the expected increase in patient visits and the expansion of services offered. Melissa was asked to be Project Lead on that extremely complex project, from vision to design to build, and shepherded the work from start to grand opening as a LEED Silver building.

Melissa notes, “I recall how satisfying it was to be involved in the project, its LEED certification process, and the creation of a healthy environment for giving and receiving care.” Her pride in UFM is clear: “People trust us as people and as a clinic…we turn no one away; we serve many who are not served anywhere else.”

Melissa is now a single mom herself, with a 25 year old son and a daughter graduating high school who is going on to Young Harris College in Georgia on a lacrosse scholarship.

As she settles into her expanded role, Melissa is looking ahead to improvements and additions to the program and to more community involvement. UFM will continue to expand its work on substance abuse. She sees the need for a coalition of services to deal with that multifaceted issue, especially given that a number of different agencies are seeing many of the same people.

You’ll have a chance to meet Melissa and learn more about her vision for a healthy community at the UFM Healthy West Seventh Block Party Aug. 8, 5-8 pm.

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