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Planned urgent care in north St. Louis ‘isn't going to make much of a dent’

Developer Paul McKee outlined his plans for an urgent care hospital at 25th St. and Maiden Ln. in July of 2014.
Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio

When Missouri regulators approved his proposal Monday, St. Louis developer Paul McKee got one step closer to realizing his $6.8-million dollar project to build an urgent care center in north St. Louis. It's a start but won't fully address the area's needs, health experts say.

The three-bed clinic is to be built at the former Pruitt-Igoe site at 1120 North Jefferson Ave., covering 12 percent of the 33-acre site. A spokesman for McKee told St. Louis Public radio that the developer intends to purchase the $1 million tract of land from the city’s land bank within the next year.

See St. Louis Public Radio’s coverage of the building plans here    

Dr. Will Ross of Washington University in St. Louis.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
Dr. Will Ross of Washington University in St. Louis.

The north side of St. Louis has long lacked adequate health-care resources, said Dr. Will Ross of Washington University. Though care coordination has improved with the implementation of the Integrated Health Network, Ross said, residents just don’t have many options.  

“Look at the map,” Ross said. “We still have a need for services that are more north. This new site Mr. McKee is proposing fills a void, absolutely. But it’s not a panacea.”

Ross led a team that conducted a community health needs assessment of the area in 2008. He said that one quote from a resident focus group stood out to him:

“We don’t need an in-patient facility, we don’t need a trauma center, we don’t even need a full emergency department,” the resident said. “The biggest piece is accessible, affordable, basic healthcare ... lacerations, coughs,  colds, outpatient pneumonia, STD testing, the kinds of things that you don’t call two months ahead and set up an appointment but they don’t require the thousands of dollars that an ER visit incurs.”

Community health centers help fill this need, but their hours and locations can be difficult to manage for people with multiple jobs or transportation difficulties, Ross said.

When built, the new urgent care clinic will be just north and west of downtown St. Louis. It’s adjacent to one of the potential sites of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which could house up to 3,000 employees.

Surilla Shaw, nurse coordinator for St. Louis Public Schools.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
Surilla Shaw, nurse coordinator for St. Louis Public Schools.

The location is also near a cluster of St. Louis Public Schools, including Gateway Middle school, Carr Lane VPA Middle School, and Dunbar Elementary. Surilla Shaw supervises school nurses at the district’s schools, and says some may see 30 to 40 children each day—though the need is not necessarily concentrated on the north side.

“Parents are now, upon realizing their children are ill, sending them to school to see the school nurse,” Shaw said. “It’s quite a challenge.”

When students need to be referred to urgent care services, Shaw said school nurses in schools in north St.Louis usually have two options for pediatric urgent care; both are in the Central West End.

Regional Health Commission CEO Rob Fruend wasn’t optimistic that the three-bed urgent care center would have the capacity to serve its neighborhood. Though the nearby Grace Hill Health Center doesn’t offer urgent care services at its locations in north St. Louis, the clinics see more than 120,000 patient visits a year.

“This proposed hospital is part of the major development he’s proposing. Three beds isn’t going to make much of a dent in access issues,” Fruend said.

At least one more option for north side residents may be in the works: In December, a developer submitted a letter of intent to propose a 10-bed hospital and triage center for the area.

Follow @durrieB for more health-care news from throughout the St. Louis region.