A $1.08 million grant from the federal government is allowing an East St. Louis clinic to expand its services as a “one-stop shop” in a city where many struggle to manage chronic health conditions and access to care is often limited.
The WeCare Clinic, which is run by Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville at 601 James R. Thompson Blvd., is divided into three parts. The university’s schools of nursing, pharmacy and dentistry already operate a nurse-managed primary-care clinic, dental practice and pharmacy under one roof, allowing patients to see multiple providers in a single day if scheduling allows. The grant itself will allow the clinics to hire more staff, including a medical social worker. Students from SIUE will also be involved.
Kim White, a clinical nurse specialist and director of the primary care clinic at WeCare, said many of the clinic's patients are struggling to manage chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes or obesity. Frequently, their health problems are related to patients’ income and environment.
“We lost one of the grocery stores; Schnuck’s moved out of town,” White said. “Even though we have parks in the area, there aren’t as many places for people just to get out and walk or exercise. You have to consider safety.”
Between 85 and 90 percent of WeCare’s 1,700 patients are covered through Medicaid or Medicaid managed care, White said. In 2014, Illinois expanded Medicaid to cover all residents who make less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $32,250 a year for a family of four. In the midst of Illinois’ transition to managed care plans, not all health providers accept those patients anymore.
Navigating the switch to managed care has been a major challenge for patients in East St. Louis, said WeCare clinical coordinator Linda Omondi, a certified nurse practitioner. If patients miss the sign up period to choose a provider, they are assigned one by the state.
“The assignments that are often made are to providers that present transportation problems,” Omondi said. “It’s difficult for them to be consistent in the care that they deserve to have.”
The federal grant will also allow WeCare to begin seeing additional forms of private insurance, which White said should help them increase the number of patients they see each year.
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