In 2017 at a benefit luncheon and fashion show for the Rural Parish Workers of Christ the King, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson announced plans to bring health care and social services to help support the more than 70-year ministry of the Rural Parish Workers in rural Washington County.
Several years later, in 2019, that vision became a reality with the establishment of the Rural Parish Clinic, which provides health care and social services to the uninsured poor in rural communities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, first in Washington County, with the hope of expanding it to other areas.
The archbishop has said the clinic “will help meet the medical, social, emotional and spiritual needs of the uninsured working poor, opening doors to services that were previously not available to them. The mission will bring all involved—patients, doctors, nurses, hospitality volunteers, drivers — into a deeper union with our Lord, Jesus Christ, as they witness His mercy at work in the world.”
The clinic operates at St. Joachim Parish in Old Mines, which provides its facilities for intake and a waiting room. Patients are seen in a 40-foot van that includes two examination rooms. Sister Marie Paul Lockerd, RSM, DO, a family practice physician, and Dr. James Lord, a retired Mercy family practice physician, provide the primary care; volunteer registered nurses offer patient education and assessments. The clinic also recently began serving patients in Franklin County, at St. Clare Parish in St. Clair.
“We’re not only providing physical health care,” said Sister Marie Paul. “We hope to provide spiritual health care by being the face of Christ to the poor, and seeing Christ in those we serve.”
Services include preventative care such as annual physicals, treatment for chronic illnesses, acute care for minor illnesses, injuries and infections, as well as gynecological and mental health services. The Rural Parish Clinic also anticipates opening a separate clinic for dental care in the fall.
Several Catholic health care systems contributed toward the effort, including electronic medical records from SSM Health; X-ray services from Mercy; and assistance with business operations and medical supplies from Ascension Health.
In Washington County, 14 percent of the population under age 65 does not have health insurance, according to county health rankings data published in 2018. Approximately 21 percent of people in the county also report having fair or poor health. The median income in Washington County is about $37,000, according to the U.S Census Bureau, which is below the national median of $49,000.
“We hope this clinic can provide health care to prevent unnecessary ER visits and hospitalizations, thus saving local tax dollars,” said Sister Marie Paul.
The Rural Parish Workers of Christ the King have ministered to the poor of Washington County for more than 70 years, providing food, clothing, shelter and utility assistance. Directress Natalie Villmer said that the people they serve often do not have insurance. She’s seen many examples where the children are covered by Medicaid, but the parents go without coverage.
Rural Parish Workers have been getting out the word on the mobile clinic to those whom they serve. “As far as we’re concerned … I think there is a significant number of people without insurance,” Villmer said. “I think people who have had trouble getting health care before will have an option. It will be brought to them, where they won’t have to do a lot of traveling.”