When Yvette Scott started coming to the Rural Parish Clinic about three years ago, she was in bad shape, she said.
Previous negative experiences and a lack of health insurance had kept her away from doctors for years. She was experiencing chronic joint pain and depression, though, so she allowed her sister to drag her along to the medical clinic at St. Joachim Church in Old Mines.
There, every person Scott met treated her with dignity and compassion, she said. The doctors helped treat an underlying thyroid problem, as well as her chronic pain, and cared for her mental health, too.
“They are all caring — they know exactly who you are,” she said. “You are not just another patient.”
Scott has received care at the clinic several times since then, including at one of the clinic’s newest locations at St. James Church in Potosi, which is closer to Scott’s home. She’s even started giving other people rides to the clinic who might not be able to drive themselves.
“Without (the clinic), I don’t know what a lot of people would do, including myself,” she said.
Since the Rural Parish Clinic began serving patients in Washington County in 2019, the medical clinic has expanded from St. Joachim Church to sites in four different counties. In 2020, the 40-foot mobile clinic started visiting St. Clare Church in St. Clair; in 2021, it expanded to Sonrise Baptist Church in Bonne Terre and Good Shepherd Church in Hillsboro. This year, it’s added regular stops at St. James Church in Potosi starting in April and Immaculate Conception Church in Union beginning in August.
The dental clinic launched in 2021 to bring oral health care to those in need, beginning at Father Dempsey’s Charities in St. Louis. Since then, it’s added stops at Sacred Heart Church in Troy as well as St. Joachim, Immaculate Conception and Sonrise Baptist churches. Dental services include cleanings, X-rays and tooth extractions, fillings and dentures. The clinic typically remains in one location for several days in a row to allow time for patients to come back for followup treatments or procedures.
Both clinics provide free care to patients without insurance at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. In Washington County, 15% of adults under age 65 do not have health insurance. In St. Francois County, 13% are uninsured; in Franklin County, 12%; and Jefferson County, 11%, according to 2022 county health rankings.
Sister Mary Rachel Nerbun, RSM, took over as the clinic’s medical director in 2021. She and a team of volunteer doctors and nurses provide some acute care for illnesses or injuries but also treatment for chronic illnesses, gynocological, psychiatric and other services and preventative care.
“That’s really the goal of the clinic: to improve health care outcomes over time,” Sister Mary Rachel said.
Dr. William Guyol, a parishioner at Immacolata in Richmond Heights, started volunteering with the medical clinic about a year and a half ago after retiring from private practice.
“Jesus asked us to serve our brothers and sisters. He told us, ‘Whatever you do for them, you do for Me,’” he said. “I love practicing medicine, and this is a way to serve others with a great group of people.”
Often, patients seek care at both the medical and dental clinics, because oral health is connected in many ways to the body’s overall health, Sister Mary Rachel said. Carla Akers visited the dental clinic in August and the medical clinic in September; she needed to receive treatment for high blood pressure before she can have several teeth pulled and dentures made.
Akers also has lupus, an autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation and pain throughout the body, but without insurance, she hadn’t seen a doctor for about four years before coming to Dr. Guyol at the clinic.
“I liked that he took time to explain everything to me,” Akers said. “He went into detail about my new medicines and told me to call before my next appointment if I started having any problems.”
Denise Eckhoff has also received both dental and medical care through the Rural Parish Clinic.
“Everyone is so friendly and willing to help,” she said. “My blood pressure’s doing good, and I’m just getting healthier.”
Eckhoff was connected with the Rural Parish Clinic by the Rural Parish Workers, a community of vowed laywomen and volunteers who serve the poor in Washington County. Eckhoff has formed a relationship with the community members over the past 15 years or so, she said.
The Rural Parish Workers began in Cottleville in 1942 and moved to Fertile, near Cadet, in 1949. Natalie Villmer and Neva Calvert are now the two remaining vowed members, working to assist people with basic needs like food, clothing, utilities and housing, as well as access to medical care. They also provide spiritual support and host groups that encourage neighbors to get to know and support each other.
Needs are high as people emerge from the isolation and financial strain of the pandemic, Calvert said. She’s especially seen a great increase in the number of people without permanent housing.
“We’ll keep doing all we can as long as we can,” Calvert said.
Friends of the Rural Parish Workers Fashion Show
The Friends of the Rural Parish Workers will host their 52nd annual fashion show at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at the Ritz-Carlton. Funds raised by the fashion show support the work of both the Rural Parish Workers and the Rural Parish Clinic.
This year will be the first fashion show held since 2019. The show was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, but people still gave generously, raising $112,000 in 2020 and $135,000 in 2021.
“When we help our neighbors in need, we’re also serving Jesus,” said Joan Lipic, a founding member of the Friends. “We help (the Rural Parish Workers) meet the spiritual and physical needs of everyone they serve. It’s a witness of love.”
To learn more and buy tickets for the fashion show, visit friendsofrpw.com. Tickets must be purchased by Oct. 20.
The Rural Parish Clinic
The Rural Parish Medical and Dental Clinics provide no-cost care to adults between the ages of 19-64 who have no health insurance and a household income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. For more information, visit archstl.org/rpc.
>> Medical Clinic
To make an appointment at the medical clinic, call (888) 870-9610.
First Monday: Sonrise Baptist Church, 454 Berry Road, Bonne Terre
Second and Fourth Monday: St. Joachim Church, 10120 Crest Road, Old Mines
Third Monday: St. James Church, 201 N. Missouri St., Potosi
First Thursday: Good Shepherd Church, 701 Third St., Hillsboro
Second and Fourth Thursday: St. Clare Church, 165 E. Springfield Road, St. Clair
Third Thursday: Immaculate Conception Church, 9 W. Main St., Union
>> Dental Clinic
Dental clinic services are by appointment only. To make an appointment, call (314) 225-4034.
Mid-November: St Joachim Church, 10120 Crest Road, Old Mines
Early December: Father Dempsey’s Charities, St. Louis
Early January: Sacred Heart Church, 100 Thompson Drive, Troy
The Rural Parish Clinic is in need of more volunteers for both the medical and dental clinics. Dentists and dental hygenists are particularly needed right now to be able to meet the high need for dental services.
For more information about volunteering, or to make a financial contribution, visit www.archstl.org/rpc or call (888) 870-9610 (medical clinic) or (314) 225-4034 (dental clinic).