The small corner store that Common Ground Health Clinic calls home doesn’t make much of an impression from the street. But for the thousands of people who receive care at this free Algiers clinic, and for the volunteers and staff who run it, this humble address is making a big difference.

“What sets us apart is, from the very early days, we’ve held the belief that we are with our patients, with them for whatever they’re going through,” says clinic director Antor Ndep.

This approach won a ringing endorsement earlier this year when the Common Ground Health Clinic earned the highest level of recognition from the National Committee for Quality Assurance, a group that evaluates health care providers around the country.

The recognition was in the NCQA’s category for “patient-centered medical homes,” a model focused on building patient relationships for long-term health and preventative care. For Common Ground Health Clinic, this means patient services that go beyond primary care to include herbal medicine and acupuncture, social work and one-on-one management of health action plans.

“We try to anticipate the barriers patients will face and try to minimize them,” says Ndep. “If they need a Spanish interpreter, we provide that. If they’ve been referred somewhere else, we make sure they get free care or pay on a sliding scale and we make sure they have the right paperwork for that. We call them the day of an appointment and make sure they have what they need for their visit ahead of time.”

The clinic traces its roots to the first chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina, when the world wondered at the government response to the humanitarian crisis. Individuals stepped forward to take the lead. On the health front, those spontaneous grassroots efforts quickly coalesced into the Common Ground Health Clinic, which evolved from care on the street to a temporary home base in an Algiers mosque to today’s clinic at 1400 Teche St.

It is clear the clinic has tapped a need. Administrators estimate it has delivered free care to 60,000 people since 2005, and now anywhere from 150 to 200 people turn up for care each week.

The clinic recently purchased a blighted commercial building nearby on Newton Street, which will be renovated as a new, larger facility. The nonprofit is also focused on raising money for an anticipated funding shortfall when federal grants for post-Katrina health services expire next year. Learn more at www.commongroundclinic.org.

– I.M.