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Health, Science, Environment

New Casa De Salud President Hopes To Build On Clinic's Trust With Immigrants

Wayne Crosslin | International Institute.

Casa de Salud, the St. Louis clinic that primarily serves immigrants and refugees, has named Diego Abente as its new president and CEO.

Abente comes to the clinic from the Community Development Corporation of the International Institute of St. Louis, where he was program director. He’ll take over the clinic, which provides primary and behavioral health care to uninsured people, early next year.

He said working with people of different cultures has convinced him medical providers need to serve their clients with sensitivity.

“Casa is poised to be able to add to the community culturally sensitive health services in a way that many other organizations aren’t qualified to help with,” Abente said. “That involves not only understanding folks are from different parts of the world, but also acknowledging cultural backgrounds have different expectations as to what health care should look and feel like.”

Abente replaces Jorge Riopedre, who stepped down as president in November.

The 43-year-old has the skills and background that the clinic was looking for, said Edward Macias, chairman of the Casa de Salud board of directors.

Macias was particularly impressed with Abente’s experience providing social services to foreign-born people in St. Louis.

“He’s been working at the International Institute with refugees and immigrants, so he’s very familiar with the communities Casa works with,” Macias said.

Abente has experience working with nonprofits around the world. He worked as a lawyer in his native Paraguay and spent years in Equatorial Guinea overseeing a nonprofit’s treatment of communities sickened by malaria.

Abente came to the U.S. with his family as a refugee when he was a child. Seeing the disparities in opportunities between his native Paraguay and the U.S. motivated him to work in nonprofits, he said.

“It helped me develop this curiosity,” he said. “How can we take all these great things America has been able to provide for its people and help other communities across the world do the same for their own people?”

For more than a decade, Casa de Salud has provided low-cost primary care services. Since 2010, the clinic has grown its annual budget from $250,000 to more than $2 million. It now offers five times the number of services it did 10 years ago.

In 2018, Casa de Salud opened a behavioral health clinic. Its leaders hope to open a dental clinic within two years.

Spanish-speaking people make up the core of Casa de Salud’s client base. Abente hopes to broaden the clinic’s reach to include more immigrants from other backgrounds.

At Casa de Salud, that will all come down to trust, he said.

“Building a strong relationship builds better outcomes,” Abente said. “It may seem counterintuitive, because it’s slowing down to hurry up. But taking the time to build a strong relationship and to really cultivate trust then allows you to take whatever work that you’re doing to the next level.”

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