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SLU's student-run clinic emphasizes prevention, healthy living

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 10, 2013 - Each Tuesday evening, some of the most medically underserved residents in St. Louis gather at a clinic in the Victor Roberts Building on the north side for generous access to medical advice. The discussions focus less on pills and prescriptions and more on wellness and prevention, with primary emphasis on measures the patients can take to improve their health.

These unusual doctor-patient sessions are led by Saint Louis University medical students under the guidance of university physicians. The clinic itself, known as the Health Resource Center, marked its 20th anniversary with a move this fall from a church basement to more spacious facilities on the second floor of the Roberts Building, 1408 North Kingshighway. Dedication of the new facility takes place at 2 p.m. Monday.

Donating the free space were Dr. Eva Frazer, a former SLU trustee, and her husband, Steven Roberts, a businessman and former alderman.

“This is an excellent location for a health center,” Frazer says. “We’re on three bus lines, and we have great access to parking.” Plus, she says, the facility offers space not only to practice medicine but to promote patient education, such as the Tuesday night sessions between med students and patients.

“One of the areas I feel very strongly about is preventive medicine, teaching people the skills they need to maintain their own good health and prevent health problems, like diabetes, like high blood pressure, through good nutrition and education.”

She says such issues are particularly crucial to the health of a patient population that tends to be uninsured and wouldn’t otherwise have access to health care. She adds that the clinic also reflects the university’s Jesuit identity and service mission.

The students are particularly excited about the potential of the healthy living sessions, says Matthew DeCuffa, a second year med student on the clinic’s leadership team. He says the sessions reach out to community groups, such as churches, to encourage residents themselves to do more on their own to improve health. The activity is similar to some of those that the Beacon has organized recently through its Fit City project, which promotes healthy initiatives by reaching out to the community through churches on the north side.

“We were fortunate to have the facility donated to us,” he says. “We’re really focused on trying to take the patient’s whole health into account and not just the reason they came to the clinic. We don’t want to just treat the symptoms but teach them how to help themselves and improve their lives.”

The clinic was formerly situated in the basement of St. Augustine Church, 371 Hamilton Ave., serving more than 1,000 patients last year. About 73 percent of them were uninsured.

“It was a little cramped," DeCuffa says. "This clinic looks like a professional doctors' clinic. We’re making an effort to provide patients with more privacy and better conditions to serve them.”

He says med students especially enjoy the chance to interact more with the patients in the healthy living sessions.

“It’s not just providing information but setting goals for the patients as well and seeing how they improve, how they progress each week.”

An example, he says, is that patients are encouraged to walk a certain number of hours one week and return the next week to discuss how well them performed, set new goals or talk about what might have prevented them from achieving their current goal.

He says the students also are reviewing medical charts of previous patients to determine which health problems, such as diabetes and other illnesses, the patients might face and refer them to the Tuesday evening program.

“We’re going directly after those patients we can help the most,” he says. “It’s not stopping with this program. It’s going to be an evolving process, starting with the healthy living program. There are also plans to start a diabetic clinic, a cardio clinic. These haven’t happened yet, but there is a lot of excitement about growing the services.”

In addition, he says, obesity is “absolutely a concern. It’s something that the healthy living group addresses during their talks.”

The healthy living sessions are only a small part of the operation. The clinic has six patient exam rooms and can accommodate up to 20 patients for primary care on Saturday mornings. Appointments are not accepted. Patients can find information by calling 314-389-0008 or sending an email to sluhhrc@gmail.com.

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.