Five years ago, an old auto repair shop re-opened its doors as a community health center to serve uninsured people, many of them Hispanic immigrants. Today, more than 400 people walk through its doors each month.
On Friday, Casa de Salud marked the fifth anniversary of its first patient visit. Anna Castro has worked as the clinic’s receptionist since the beginning, assisting patients who don’t have health insurance due to their employer, their immigration status or lack of resources.
“People get sick, and they need to see a doctor,” said Castro, who moved to St. Louis from El Salvador. “But this is a great place because we see everybody.”
Patients who are uninsured face high bills at most hospitals and clinics if they have to pay out-of-pocket. Casa de Salud charges a $25 fee, but if patients need a service the clinic cannot provide, counselors can help them apply for financial assistance or payment plans at nearby hospitals.
Castro started to tear up when she remembered the stories of the patients she’s met; including one woman who had severe pains in her chest, but hadn’t been able to get to a doctor. She booked the patient for an appointment the next day.
“Her lungs were full of fluid,” Castro said. “She ended up having lung cancer, but she was a survivor for two years.”
Castro said the woman’s daughter, who has special needs, returns to the clinic regularly for appointments.
“She knew that at least we were going to take care of her (daughter), even when she was gone,” Castro said. “I think she was very pleased.”
Casa de Salud's executive director, Jorge Riopedre, said the number of people in the Latino community who are uninsured won’t decline anytime soon because the Affordable Care Act leaves many of his clients out. The Missouri legislature does not appear to be expanding Medicaid anytime soon, which would provide insurance to low-income workers. People who are undocumented can’t purchase health insurance on the federal exchange, and families with mixed immigration status are often wary of signing up.
Riopedre said Casa’s clients often struggle with language barriers as well as access to transportation. The closure of ConnectCare in 2013 meant some have to travel even farther for medical appointments.
“All these things pile up. Last time we did a survey, 54 percent of patients said that previous to Casa, they had not been able to get access to care, even when it was crucial care.”
Riopedre said there are a number of ways the clinic has expanded over the past five years:
- Increased patient visits from about 200 to more than 400 each month.
- The paid staff has more than doubled to 26 and volunteer physicians has grown toabout 50.
- Its annual budget has grown from about $300,000 to $1.5 million. The clinic relies on donations because it receives no government funding.
- Programs housed at Casa de Salud now include care coordination, a team called GUIA that assists uninsured patients seeking care at hospitals, and a program to help clients sign up for WIC (Women Infant Children) vouchers.
Riopedre’s plans for Casa de Salud's future include expanded services, home visits for hypertension and diabetes patients, and fully implementing a care coordination program for patients who see multiple doctors in the community.
“Next is doing what we do, better,” Riopedre said.
If you want to go:
Casa de Salud will hold its fifth anniversary celebration from 6-8:30 p.m. on Friday, January 16, with entertainment from the Tumbao tropical Latin Jazz Band. Admission is free, but please RSVP to Diana Barbosa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow St. Louis Public Radio health reporter Durrie Bouscaren on Twitter: @durrieB