Ernie McKee has known the Rural Parish Workers of Christ the King since he was a child. The community of vowed laywomen who help the poor in Washington County has assisted his family and had him working odd jobs to earn money for school clothes.
McKee is a roofer and travels upward of one-and-a-half to two hours from Old Mines to St. Louis for his job, which is considered seasonal. He hasn’t had health insurance since 2012, and this isn’t the first time he’s been without. He’s 41 and doesn’t get regular checkups. He just pushes through when he gets sick — but he’d consider going to the local emergency room if absolutely needed.
“I guess it’s the only place that will actually take you,” he said.
All of that will be changing soon, with the debut of the Rural Parish Clinic, a new mobile medical clinic operated by Catholic Charities of St. Louis, in collaboration with the ministry of the Rural Parish Workers of Christ the King. The mobile clinic will provide health care services to the uninsured poor in rural communities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis
. An open house and reception for the clinic will be held in St. Louis Nov. 7 at the Cardinal Rigali Center.
“I look forward to launching the clinic on its mission of mercy in the best way possible, with a blessing, because it is primarily a work of healing and evangelization,” said Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, who announced his vision for the clinic about a year ago. “Through this clinic, the Catholic Church will reach out to the uninsured working poor to help meet their medical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs. Most importantly, it will help to draw everyone, those who give, those who serve, and those who receive service, closer to our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
The mobile clinic initially will be based at St. Joachim Parish in Old Mines, and is expected to be up and running by early 2019. Health care services will be provided in a 40-foot van on the parish property, with St. Joachim’s Incarnate Word Parish Center serving as a reception/waiting area. The long-term plan is for the clinic to visit other sites.
The van includes two examination rooms, where Sister Marie Paul Lockerd, RSM, DO, a family practice physician, and Dr. Joseph DeLucia, family practice physician who is trained in emergency medicine, will provide care once a week at the clinic. Nine registered nurses also have offered to volunteer to provide patient education and assessments.
Services will include preventative care such as annual physicals, treatment for chronic illnesses, acute care for minor illnesses, injuries and infections, as well as gynecological and psychiatric services. The clinic also will collaborate with SSM Health, which will help with electronic medical records; Mercy, which will offer X-ray services; and Ascension Health, which will provide assistance business operations and medical supplies.
Catholic Charities will provide case management social services and collaborate with other community agencies to help with long-term needs, such as education and employment, housing, mental and emotional health, substance abuse, counseling and transportation. Catholic Charities president Theresa Ruzicka said the clinic fits right in with Catholic Charities’ desire to expand its outreach in rural communities in the archdiocese.
“We understand that people in poverty face a number of struggles beyond access to health care,” Ruzicka said. “They may need additional assistance with other obstacles — financial needs, transportation issues, housing, mental or emotional health struggles. This will allow us to meet people where they are, and overcome barriers to accessing services.”
In Washington County, 14 percent of the population under age 65 does not have 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.
National studies have shown the benefit of mobile health clinics. Data from Mobile Health Map found each visit to a mobile clinic saves on average $200 due to avoided ER visits, and $1,600 due to long-term impact of preventive services. “Our hope is to get to the working poor — that’s our target population,” said Sister Marie Paul, a native of Minnesota who has worked as a rural physician for more than 20 years. “Our hope is that by treating people that we’ll be able to decrease the tax dollars in the emergency rooms. People who don’t have insurance go to the emergency room for their primary care.”
The clinic will build upon the work of the Rural Parish Workers of Christ the King, who have ministered to the poor of Washington County for more than 70 years. The group serves about 2,500 people a year, providing food, clothing, shelter and utility assistance.
Directress Natalie Villmer thumbed through a stack of applications for the Rural Parish Workers’ annual Christmas donation program. Applicants indicated whether they and their children have health insurance — the majority of children do, but for adults, especially those from their 20s to 50s, it’s hit or miss.
“A lot of times the children are insured through Medicaid or other programs, but the parents aren’t,” Villmer said. “They work in minimum wage jobs, and the companies that they work for aren’t able to pay insurance for them.”
For now, the Rural Parish Workers are getting out the word on the mobile clinic to those whom they serve, anticipating the moment it hits the road. “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 travelling.”
>>Rural Parish Clinic open house and reception
WHAT: An open house and reception to unveil the new Rural Parish Clinic
WHEN: open house from 2-5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7; Archbishop Robert J. Carlson will preside at a blessing at 6 p.m., followed by an evening reception until 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Cardinal Rigali Center, 20 Archbishop May Drive in Shrewsbury; the event will take place outdoors, and children are welcome
MORE INFO: RSVP for the evening reception at www.archstl.org/rpc
>>How you can help
The Rural Parish Clinic already has received financial support from the Annual Catholic Appeal, Incarnate Word Foundation, Drury Foundation, as well as individual donors. Additional funding will be needed to help with annual operating expenses.
Donations can be made online at www.ccstl.org/donate and selecting Rural Parish Clinic from the drop down menu.
Checks also can be mailed to Catholic Charities of St. Louis, P.O. Box 952393, St. Louis, MO 63195-2393. Be sure to note Rural Parish Clinic in the memo.
For more information on the Rural Parish Clinic, visit www.ccstl.org/rpc.