Despite serving more than 15,000 children this year, St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s Healthy Kids Express is just scratching the surface of the need for health care among kids in the St. Louis area, says Greta Todd-Moorhead, the hospital’s director of child health advocacy and outreach. “Most of the issues we’re addressing are public health crises for these kids and for the whole community,” she says. “There’s a need for a lot more than just our services, but we’re the first step.”
Initiated in 1999, Healthy Kids Express has grown from one mobile health care unit to three: with one dedicated to preventive screenings and immunizations; a dental unit with a full-time dentist and three assistants; and a third devoted to asthma care. Some of the children have only one interaction with the program, while others might require several follow-up visits, Todd-Moorhead notes.
For example, with dental visits, “we see children with 10, 12 or 15 cavities,” Todd-Moorhead says. “Our kids are pretty sick so we tend to see the same kids again.” She notes that 68 percent of kids on Medicaid did not see a dentist in the past year. “There are not enough dentists who take Medicaid in the city,” she notes.
Todd-Moorhead adds that while the Healthy Kids Express provides vital care for kids who might otherwise go without, their services do not replace what a pediatrician does. “We’re not meant to be a pediatrician’s office—we’re meant to be a complement. We’re extra help for these families in need, to get them into the system and fill in the gap.”
As the mobile units visit schools and the Healthy Kids Express staff evaluates the program’s success, they continually strive to make their services more effective. “It’s heartbreaking how much need there is,” Todd-Moorhead says. “When we do screenings on the mobile unit, we record the height, weight and BMI, requiring the kids to take off their shoes. Many times these kids don’t have socks, or they only have one sock, or they have an adult tube sock they’ve cut in half to make two socks. So we provide socks for them quietly, in a separate room, so the other kids don’t make fun of them.”
Healthy Kids Express is funded entirely by donations, and one of its primary fundraisers is the Carousel Gala, a biennial event that will take place on Nov. 2 at The Ritz-Carlton. According to event chair Tammy Walsh, the black-tie event will include a cocktail hour, dinner, out-of-the-ordinary live auction items and an after-party emceed by DJ Crucial. “As opposed to offering typical items, we’re auctioning off services that the Healthy Kids Express provides,” Walsh says. “So instead of auctioning off a vacation home, we’re auctioning off what that amount would purchase—how many teeth cleanings, how many physicals. We’re trying to keep it all about the hospital and Healthy Kids Express.” Although there’s one ‘traditional’ auction item that will allow guests the opportunity to win a dinner with doctors featured on the recent docu-series, Frontline for Hope. “It will be a small dinner party, and give diners the chance to really get to know these wonderful treasures—these doctors we have in our community.”
Todd-Moorhead emphasizes that all the work done by the Healthy Kids Express, its doctors and social workers would come to an end without the support of generous donors. “The mission of our hospital is to do what’s right for kids, and we have generous donors who saw the need and said we have to do the right thing. The need is so great.”