On a hot summer day, Brandy and Chip Hawkins sat in the comfort of an air conditioned van as a nurse checked their vitals at the Rural Parish Clinic. The couple has visited the clinic several times since it opened in Washington County, as they seek care for several chronic health issues.
Seeing a doctor for chronic health issues generally has been out of the question for the Hawkinses, who do not have insurance. Chip Hawkins is no longer able to work in construction because of the arthritis in his hands. Both are making progress in quitting smoking, which has affected their lungs. The couple have applied for Medicaid, but the wait is long. That’s where the clinic has been a big help, Chip Hawkins said.
“I’m smiling when I leave,” he said. “It might be the moral support, or just the way they talk to you.”
The Rural Parish Clinic, a new mobile medical clinic operated by employees of Catholic Charities of St. Louis and Queen of Peace Center — one of eight Catholic Charities agencies — in collaboration with the Rural Parish Workers of Christ the King, began seeing patients in early May. Patients must be uninsured and live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level for households.
Based at St. Joachim Parish in Old Mines, the clinic provides health care services to the uninsured poor in Washington County, one of the poorest counties in the state. 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 psychiatric services.
Health care services are 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 staff includes medical director Sister Marie Paul Lockerd, RSM, administrator Pat Bira and clinical coordinator Annette Portell. There are three other volunteer physicians, Dr. Tom Johans, Dr. James Lord and Dr. Mary Vatterott Hastings, as well as three volunteer nurses, Vicki Boehmer, Kathleen O’Neal and Terry Marxkors.
The clinic has collaborated with several Catholic health systems, including SSM Health for electronic medical records, Mercy for X-ray services, and Ascension Health, which is providing assistance with business operations and medical supplies. The long-term plan is for the clinic to eventually visit other sites in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
The clinic builds 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 of vowed laywomen serves about 2,500 people a year, providing food, clothing, shelter and utility assistance.
The Hawkinses were on the verge of losing their home when someone recommended they contact the Rural Parish Workers, who linked the couple to the Rural Parish Clinic.
The Rural Parish Workers “come to the house and sit with me at my kitchen table for about two hours,” Brandy Hawkins said. “They were in no hurry and they just listened to me. It was like I got 10 years of troubles in my head out in two hours. They were amazing. Being in their presence was enough.”
Since May, the clinic has had 75 patient visits, Bira said. There’s currently a 17 percent no-show rate; Bira explained there are many factors that contribute to that, such as lack of transportation, which is not uncommon to see in rural areas. The clinic staff is working on solutions to help reduce the percentage of no-shows.
Dr. Tom Johans is a retired Mercy anesthesiologist and later a chronic pain physician who now volunteers his time coordinating medical supplies and helping with patient registration, among other tasks. He read about the clinic in the St. Louis Review and said he felt a calling to help out.
At first he considered getting involved in overseas medical mission work, but realized there was much work that could be done serving the poor here. He recalled a story involving St. Teresa of Calcutta and a physician who wanted to give up his practice and serve the poor of Calcutta.
“She told him, don’t come,” said Dr. Johans, a member of St. Clement of Rome Parish in Des Peres. “She said, ‘Yes, I need you, but do you think Calcutta’s the only place that has poor people? Find your own Calcutta.’ That was such a powerful thing for me.”
Poverty in Washington County
In Washington County, 14 percent of the population under age 65 does not have insurance, according to county health rankings data
published in 2019. Washington County also ranks 107th out of 115
counties in health outcomes, including quality of life and length of
life. Approximately 19 percent of people in the county 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.
Mobile health clinics
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 emergency room 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 Lockerd, a
Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, Mich., who serves as medical director
for the Rural Parish Clinic. The native of Minnesota has worked as a
rural physician for more than 20 years. “Our hope is that by treating
people, we will be able to decrease unnecessary emergency room visits.”
patient recently asked her, ‘Why do you do what you do?’” Sister Marie
Paul told her, “because in caring for you, I find Christ.”
To learn more about the Rural Parish Clinic, or to donate or volunteer, call (888) 870-9610 or visit www.ccstl.org/rural-parish-clinic.