Thousands of kids in St. Louis don’t have access to medical care, and as a result, they’re missing out on much of the basic preventive care they need to grow into healthy adults. To help them get their required immunizations, along with eye exams, hearing exams and other medical needs, St. Louis Children’s Hospital offers the Healthy Kids Express.

“It’s an amazing program, and the only one of its kind in the St. Louis area,” says Lisa Holley, co-chair of the 2011 Carousel Gala, which will raise funds to support the program. Healthy Kids Express includes two vans that are staffed with highly trained pediatric health providers, which travel to partnering schools and daycares to provide preventive health care for kids who don’t always have access, she says. “The hospital feels that by providing this service, we’ll prevent other illnesses that might happen to these small children,” she says. “They get the screenings any child would by going to visit their pediatrician. It also helps educate the parents.” Screenings include vision, hearing, scoliosis, as well as testing for anemia, lead poisoning and iron deficiency. Immunizations and referrals for medical and social services also are offered, all at no cost to the parents.

Last year, Healthy Kids Express saw its 100,000th child and conducted its 200,000th screening. It has provided more than 9,500 immunizations and partners with about 90 organizations, including St. Louis Public Schools, Head Start sites and daycares, community service agencies, and charter and parochial schools. A record is created for each child that follows them through middle school, Holley says. “By that time, most of the kids have gotten all of their inoculations.”

The vans have a staff that includes pediatric registered nurses, social workers, a driver, a dentist and dental assistant. “It’s really a doctor’s office on four wheels,” Holley notes. “They have two exam rooms and a waiting room.” A dentist also performs checkups and does fillings on-site, she adds. “They don’t have to make an appointment and come back.” However, these vital services come with a cost. “The vans cost about $350,000 each, and about $1 million per year to operate with gas, upkeep, staffing and other expenses,” she says. “They make more than 300 visits per year, and it’s all funded by philanthropy.”

The biennial Carousel Gala is St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s premier fundraiser, and the biggest provider of funds for Healthy Kids Express. This year, the event will occur on Oct. 15 at The Fox Theatre, starting at 6:30 p.m. with the theme All the World’s A Stage. Holley’s cochair is Becky Wood. “We’re excited about the magic of the venue and how For the first time, the signature event will offer two-tiered seating. Seating is available on the stage for $200 per ticket with a full-service meal, while buffet service is offered in the Fox Club for $150 per ticket. A live auction will include prizes, such as a trip to New York for four with tickets to two designer fashion shows during Fashion Week, as well as a Broadway show; a cocktail party for 80 guests at the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark Three Sixty Rooftop Bar; and a five-day trip to a lavish vacation home in Park City, Utah, featuring five-star amenities. “We have a great committee of people working really hard on this. It does take a lot of planning, and we’re truly excited,” Holley says. “The event is a group effort toward taking care of our most vulnerable citizens who might not otherwise have the chance to get a tooth filled or a measles shot.”