The Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley's History

Prior to 1950, most American Indians lived on reservations, in nearly rural towns, or in tribal jurisdictional areas such as Oklahoma.

In the 1950s the federal government passed legislation to terminate its legal obligations to Indian tribes. They terminated their obligations to 109 tribes and created programs to assimilate American Indians into mainstream American society, the largest of which was the Relocation Program. From 1953-1970, the Bureau of Indian Affairs ran a Relocation Program where they offered a one-way bus ticket and some training for Indians to move from their traditional homes on the reservation to urban areas. American Indians from many different tribes moved, and many came to cities in California.

In the 1960s American Indians started to gather for support, and began advocating for culturally appropriate health programs addressing the unique social, cultural and health needs of AI/ANs living in urban settings. By 1969, over 160,000 American Indians had been relocated to live in urban areas.

In 1965 American Indian community members in Santa Clara County formed the United American Indians of Santa Clara Valley, Inc., and in 1969 created the Indian Community Center of San Jose.

In 1970, the United American Indians of Santa Clara Valley, Inc. reorganized its clubhouse into a community-based information and referral agency under a board of directors representing many Indian nations. The new organization became the San Jose American Indian Center.

In 1975, the Indian Center established a one-desk health unit. By 1977, the unit grew large enough to become an agency of its own. The newly incorporated Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley, Inc. started as a poorly funded not-for-profit clinic with no private examination rooms, dental chairs held together with dental floss, and no running water.

In the 1990s, the organization has been recognized by the Indian Health Service as an Urban Indian Health Program in California. In 1993, the IHC obtained Federally Qualified Health Care Status (FQHC). In 2001, the IHC was surveyed by the Accreditation Association of Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC).

Today over two-thirds (2/3) of American Indians live in urban areas.

California is home to one of the largest American Indian populations in the country, which includes federally-recognized tribes, non-federally recognized tribes, tribes that were terminated by the US government, state recognized tribes, tribes petitioning for state and federal recognition, and urban Indian communities. In fact, some of the largest concentrations of American Indians in the U.S. live in California cities.

The land upon which the IHC's buildings sit is the homeland of the local indigenous tribe, the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Muwekma is comprised of all the known surviving American Indian lineages aboriginal to the San Francisco Bay Region and whose members and descendants are from the historic Federally Recognized Verona Band. The Muwekma are Federally recognized but have been fighting to have their status clarified and reaffirmed for over 20 years. IHC thanks and honors the Muwekma Ohlone tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area for their generosity and hospitality with their Tribe's ancestral and historic homeland.

The Occupation of Alcatraz Island

For 19 months from 1969-1971, American Indians occupied Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay to protest and bring awareness to the deplorable conditions that American Indians were living in, both on the reservation and off.

Nixon's speech spurred a number of legislative acts during the 1970s including self-determination and control over programs and services to American Indians; protection of American Indian children; and religious freedom to worship through traditional ceremonies and rites.

Location #1: Civic Center Area (1972-1975)
448 North San Pedro Street (by North 1st St. & Taylor)

The first location of the Indian Community Center was a modest building on North San Pedro about four blocks south of Taylor. While it is now in the afternoon shadow of Highway 87, during that time it stood alone outside of downtown San Jose with not much around it. This was the only place in all of Santa Clara County that American Indians could call their own; the next closest facilities were in San Francisco and Oakland.

Around 1975 the Community Center established a one-desk health information and referral unit. The Community Center hired its first community health workers and initial services offered were pre-natal nutrition education and parenting services. This was the start of what was later to become the Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley.

Location #2: Downtown San Jose (1975-1976)
45 South 2nd Street (by San Fernando)

This shop housed the Indian Community Center from 1975 to 1976. It is located just north of San Fernando Street in downtown San Jose. Although this is prime real estate today, back in the 1970s it was on the edge of town. This place served as a gathering place for the American Indian community. Indian sports programs for fast pitch softball and basketball were coordinated by the Center. During this time the Indian Community Center began developing a library to support the American Indian education programs that were being created.

Location #3: San Jose East Foothill (1976-1985)
3485 East Hills Drive (by Alum Rock & White)

In an effort to move away from the hustle and bustle of downtown San Jose, the Indian Community Center moved to this location in the east hills of San Jose.

In 1976 the US Congress passed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), whose goal was to elevate the health of American Indians/Alaska Natives to the level of other populations. Title V of the IHCIA established urban Indian health programs in cities where Indians had been relocated, and was created to meet the health needs of Indian living in urban areas, away from their traditional communities.

In March 1977, with funds from Title V, the Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley amicably separated from the Indian Community Center and was incorporated as a separate non-profit to address the health care needs of the American Indian community in Santa Clara Valley.

The Medical Department was created with one doctor, a nurse practitioner, and a medical assistant. In 1978 Dr. Anne Verstraete, who was with the IHC for 32 years until her retirement in 2010, was the second doctor hired. The conditions of the center were rustic: the Medical Department used kindergarten trailers and had only curtains to separate exam rooms, and there was no running water.

The Dental Department also got their start at the East Hills location, starting with one dentist and one dental assistant.

The nutrition education services that had started IHC turned into a program when IHC was able to secure a grant from the state of California to provide WIC (Women-Infant-Children) services. The WIC/Nutrition Department was created and IHC is only 1 of 2 non-profit organizations, other than the county, that provides WIC services to Santa Clara County residents.

After six years at this location the Health Center and the Community Center decided to relocate. IHC needed more space and moved into its own facility on East Santa Clara Street, while the Indian Community Center moved back downtown to a location on The Alameda by Stockton Avenue.

Location #4: East San Jose (1985-1994)
1245 East Santa Clara Street (by 26th Street)

For almost 10 years IHC was located at this site on East Santa Clara Street. With a larger and visible facility, IHC was able to serve more community members.

During this period, IHC started its Counseling Department with a focus on alcohol and substance abuse counseling. Over time, this expanded to include mental health counseling , crisis intervention, case management and psychiatric services.

In 1993, IHC became a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). IHC's Board decided to open the Center's service to non-American Indians because they saw there was a tremendous need for culturally proficient health care service designed to serve low-income people in the community.

Location #5: Central San Jose (1994-present)
1333 Meridian Avenue (by Willow Ave.)

In 1994, IHC needed a much larger facility to house its expanded services. The move to this central San Jose location provided significantly more operating area for all of IHC's programs. IHC's Medical, Dental, Counseling, and WIC departments were all located in this building, along with finance and administrative staff.

Severe Health Disparities for AI/ANs

The 2000 Census reported that in the Santa Clara Valley area there were 26,648 American Indians representing over 180 tribes, most with incomes below the federal poverty level. Lacking resources, culturally appropriate care, and family support, many urban Indians experience disease and mortality rates several times greater than the general public. Diabetes is one disease that is particularly devastating. A report by the Urban Indian Health Institute estimates that despite significant miscoding of diabetic Indians as non-Indians by health care professionals and government research, Indians in urban areas have mortality rates due to diabetes that are 53% higher than those of the general population. The hospitalization rate of Indians for diabetes in San Jose is 48% higher than the general population.

Accreditation for Meeting National Standards of Care (2001- current)

In March 2001 the Accreditation Association of Ambulatory Health Centers (AAAHC) accredited the IHC, making it the first community health center in Santa Clara County to receive recognition of meeting national standards of care. IHC has been re-accredited in 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013 after undergoing rigorous, 3 day reviews of all of its departments and programs as well as governance, administration, finance, facilities and quality improvement. IHC remains the only community health center in Santa Clara County that is accredited.

Renovation at 1333 Meridian Avenue (2004-2005)

In 2002 IHC was awarded a Healthy Neighborhood Venture Fund grant to renovate the Medical & Dental departments, the courtyard, and bathrooms. This renovation took approximately 7 months.

The Medical Department doubled its capacity from 6 to 12 exam rooms and the Dental Department increased from 3 to 4 operatories. Staff did an incredible job providing high quality services and maintaining professionalism despite working in an extremely cramped space!

IHC was awarded a state grant and in November 2006 repaved the parking lot.

IHC's Medical Department continued to grow, and over the years added 4 more exam rooms.

Because of the growth in IHC's Medical Department, in 2004 non-medical programs started to be moved from 1333 Meridian to nearby locations.

By 2008, the lobby in IHC's Medical Department was too cramped and needed to be improved. In 2009 IHC applied for and was awarded a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to again renovate 1333 Meridian. In the renovation the interior courtyard connecting the two buildings was enclosed to make a larger and more comfortable waiting space for clients. Another exam room was added as well as office space for providers and staff. Several safety upgrades were also made to the building, including fire sprinklers. Construction began in October 2011 and finished in May 2012, and IHC remained in operation throughout. W. G. Fritz Construction was the contractor.

Before Construction - September 2011
After Construction - May 2012

Other Sites

After it moved to 1333 Meridian in 1994, IHC began to experience steady growth due to a demand for services. Because the site cannot be built on, IHC had to expand to additional locations.

The Wellness Center (2002-present)
602 E. Santa Clara Avenue
(Corner of E. Santa Clara & 13th in downtown San Jose)

In 2002 IHC created a Wellness Center in response to requests from the community to provide integrated health promotion and disease prevention services. The first Wellness Center was located at 555 North First Street by Jackson Street. IHC rented ½ and then the entire building and moved all outreach, health education, nursing, and counseling staff to this site. IHC's fitness program was started at this site and both the Counseling and Community Wellness and Outreach departments grew.

In 2007, when the lease was up at this site, IHC purchased a building with more space in downtown San Jose to house the Wellness Center. In 2008 the Community Wellness and Outreach Department moved in to the 1st floor and the Counseling Department to the 2nd.


Counseling Department Satellite Site (1999-present)
5038 Hyland Avenue, San Jose, CA 95112 (by Alum Rock Avenue)

The Counseling Department operates a satellite office on the St. Phillips Episcopal church grounds. The Indian Health Center's sweat lodge is also located on the church property adjacent to the IHC offices. In 2003 IHC began providing regular sweat lodge ceremonies for community members. Traditional ceremonies are also held at this site for community members who request healing.

Administration (2008-present)
1211 Meridian Avenue, San Jose, CA 95125
(Corner of Meridian & Westwood, 1 block south of Willow)

In 2008 administration and finance moved out of 1333 Meridian and 2 blocks down the street to 1211 Meridian to make room for Medical Department growth and expansion.

WIC San Jose (2004-present)
1685 Westwood Drive, Suite 4 (around the corner from 1333 Meridian Avenue)

In January 2004 the Nutrition/Women, Infant, and Children Department (WIC) office moved out of 1333 Meridian and around the corner to its own office. WIC moved to make more room for the growing Medical Department. The WIC program's Nutrition Assistants, Registered Dieticians and Degreed Nutritionists provide nutrition counseling, WIC vouchers, farmer's market vouchers, and breastfeeding support to over 3,000 patients per month.

WIC Mountain View (1989-present)
327 Moffett Boulevard, Suite F, Mountain View (near Castro Street)

WIC also operates a satellite office in Mountain View (16 miles northwest of the main facility) to serve clients who live in the north county area. The WIC office was originally housed at the Community Services Agency of Mountain View and Los Altos facility at 204 Stierlin Road. Because of growth, in January 2009 the Mountain View WIC office moved to a new location onMoffett Boulevard.


1333 Meridian Avenue San Jose, CA 95125 - (Medical and Dental)


1642 East Capitol Expressway San Jose, CA 95121 - (Medical and WIC)


602 East Santa Clara Street, Suite 130 (First Floor), San Jose, CA 95112 - (Wellness and Outreach)


455 O'Connor Drive, Suite 200 San Jose, CA 95128 - (Medical)