Whether it was started seven or 106 years ago, each of these health clinics has a strong reputation of providing critical care at low or no cost for area residents who couldn’t afford it otherwise.
In the late 1980s, when a clinic serving St. Louis’ North Grand area closed, low-income residents of that neighborhood had nowhere to go for medical care. The pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Church (now known as Sts. Teresa and Bridget Church), along with other local pastors, turned to parishioner and nurse practitioner Judy Bentley for help, and Community Health In Partnership Services (CHIPS) was born.
Began in the church basement in 1990, CHIPS quickly grew, moving into a building on church property where the health clinic serves the needs of the uninsured or underinsured. “We’re filling the needs of the people who cannot pay for their health care,” says health services director and registered nurse Margie Diekemper. “Most of our clients are working, but they’re working in low-paying jobs with no insurance.”
For a $25 annual fee, CHIPS patients are able to access ongoing free services. A primary-care clinic includes volunteer internists, pediatricians, dentists, gynecologists and a couple specialists. In addition, a team of nurses, staff and volunteers conduct health screenings throughout the community; educating, counseling and helping more than 3,100 people address their medical issues last year, Diekemper says. “We don’t just wait for people to come to the clinic; we go out and find them.”
Although the majority of its clients are neighborhood residents, the free clinic serves more than 100 ZIP codes in the metro area, seeing 600 people over 3,000 visits in 2011. With no direct federal or state funding, CHIPS is supported by private foundations, grants, donations and fundraisers. The clinic hopes to one day build a bigger facility and offer even more people care, Diekemper notes. “Both the reward and challenge of working with needy people is addressing their medical issues and getting them on the path to staying healthy.”
Gateway to Hope
Gateway to Hope is a ‘clinic without walls,’ says program nurse manager Jane Weiss. “Our patients get the care they need so no one has to die from breast cancer because they didn’t get treatment.”
Drs. David Caplin and Marlys Schuh began the program in 2005 after seeing women in their practices who were delaying treatment of breast cancer. “They saw women dying from the disease because they were uninsured or underinsured and had no way to pay for care,” Weiss says.
Gateway to Hope provides free care to uninsured or underinsured patients with breast cancer or at high risk for the disease. A unique effort in the private medical sector, the program is centered around a network of more than 150 partners and providers that Caplin and Schuh solicited throughout the community. Patients are able to find any service needed through hospitals, physicians, surgical facilities, pharmaceutical companies and medical suppliers that have all made agreements with Gateway to Hope.
In 2011, the Creve Coeur-based organization treated 94 patients through referrals from a variety of sources, including physicians, social workers and friends. If potential patients meet the financial and medical criteria, they are accepted into the program and connected with the necessary services.
Gateway to Hope covers the entire state of Missouri and continues to expand its partnerships beyond the St. Louis area. With a small staff, the organization relies on grants, private donations and fundraisers to pay for program costs. Often, former patients will return to volunteer—a sign that Gateway to Hope is achieving its goal, Weiss notes. “It’s so gratifying when you see patients who came to us broken and desperate, but through the care we offered, they now have their health back and can get back on their feet.”
Grace Hill Health Centers
Grace Hill Health Centers has been serving the St. Louis community for more than a century. Originally called the Holy Cross Dispensary, the clinic was started in 1906 as part of the settlement house movement that aided poor immigrants. That mission still rings true today. “We serve those who have no other reasonable way of getting medical treatment,” says Yvonne Buhlinger, VP for community health services.
A federally qualified health center, Grace Hill has six locations in the city of St. Louis. “One of our strategies has always been tied to where the most need for health services is,” Buhlinger says.
The nonprofit organization serves 41,000 people annually, including patients with private insurance, although the majority are uninsured. A sliding pay scale allows anyone to seek out Grace Hill for care, and treatment is free for those who cannot afford it.
Services span from internal medicine to family practice, and many physicians come from Washington University School of Medicine. In addition, a team of nurses visits public housing, shelters and patients’ homes for extended follow-up care. “If a little boy has asthma, we’ll go to his home and look for triggers like allergens,” Buhlinger explains. “We look at the whole person and provide support for our patients in many ways.”
Grace Hill also offers a comprehensive behavioral health program for children, as well as counseling, substance abuse screening and chronic care coaching for adults. “If you’re struggling with changing your habits or way of living, we can help you stay on track,” Buhlinger says.
Supported by federal funding, Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements, grants, donations and patient fees, Grace Hill aims to continue to help individuals throughout the community, just as it did in 1906. “Our mission is to provide high-quality health care and service to anyone who needs it, while promoting healthy lifestyles.”