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Viva Casa de Salud: New health center opens to treat Hispanic immigrants

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 16, 2010 - Maria Teresa Maldonado, a Hispanic community leader, recalls the sadness she felt about a year ago when two health clinics that served Hispanic immigrants closed their doors.

But she was all smiles Friday morning at the dedication of Casa de Salud, a new health center for immigrants who face barriers to affordable health care.

"We're absolutely excited and thankful," says Maldonado, a psychologist and vice chair of the board of Casa de Salud, which means house of health. "Basic medical care for Hispanics was provided for about 14 years by the two centers. When they closed, we were concerned about the future, especially for immigrants with limited resources and language barriers. Casa de Salud is an excellent facility for meeting those needs."

Several hundred people turned out for the dedication of the 3,000-square foot health center, with bright walls and colorful murals, at Chouteau and Compton avenues on the south side.

Those addressing the crowd included Bob Fox, owner of NewSpace and chair of Casa's board; Lewis Reed, president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen; Jacob Prado, the Mexican consul in Kansas City; and Father Lawrence Biondi, president of St. Louis University.

The university, which is the clinic's founding and sustaining sponsor, is renting the building to Casa de Salud for $1 a year. Biondi says the project "fits with our social justice mission of reaching out to help a seldom or never-served portion of our community." He noted the program also has the backing of Washington University medical professionals and many community groups.

Fox says the center will do a lot more besides provide short-term health services. He says Casa de Salud will act as a bridge to health and wellness programs and services offered throughout the community -- at Washington University, St. Louis University, foundations, churches, social services agencies and day-care centers.

Fox is especially proud of Casa de Salud's association with the Pujols Foundation, which Fox says offers high quality, free services for families of children with Down Syndrome.

"In the St. Louis region, few if any Latino Down Syndrome families are taking advantage of their program," Fox says. "So Casa is partnering with the Pujols Foundation to identify these families and encourage them to participate."

In addition, Fox said, Casa isdeveloping health literacy programs to "educate, empower and assist" immigrants with access to health care.


Finally, Fox and Biondi say the center is unusual because it is based on a volunteer and professional service model. With a six-member volunteer board and a 25-member volunteer advisory board, the clinic will draw on more than 100 volunteers plus 30 volunteer doctors and nurses to deliver care to the patients.

Together, the two clinics that shut down handled up to 12,000 patients a year. Fox says that other organizations filled some of the gap, but many immigrants were left without help because of language barriers and a lack of understanding of American health care.

Patients will be treated for minor illnesses and injuries and will be referred for more serious illnesses. The patients will be asked for a donation of $25 a visit to Casa de Salud. It's unclear how many immigrants will be served by the clinic or how many Hispanics live in the St. Louis area. The unofficial number has been placed as high as 80,000 when undocumented immigrants are included. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that about 170,000 Hispanics live in Missouri.

Funding for health reporting is provided in part by the Missouri Foundation for Health, a philanthropic organization whose mission is to improve the health of the people in the communities it serves.

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.