Filed Under:  Health & Wellness

St. Thomas Clinic expands

26th March 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Zoe Sullivan
Contributing Writer

Although rain had washed over the city for almost two days, roughly 150 people gathered under a tent on St. Andrew Street in the Garden District to celebrate the opening on a new community clinic. The St. Thomas Community Health Center enlisted the help of the Zulu choir and the Mayor to inaugurate the Donald T. Erwin Center. The facility will serve an expected 120 patients a day in its 12,000 square feet, according to fact sheet from the organization, this almost doubles the health center’s capacity.

Started in the St. Thomas Housing Project at the request of residents, the clinic moved in 1991 to its current facility on St. Andrew St. Dressed in a yellow Zulu jacket, Dr. Erwin, President of St. Thomas’s board, told the Louisiana Weekly that roughly 75 percent of the organization’s patients are uninsured. He also explained that the clinic provides its services on a sliding scale, based on one’s ability to pay. The organization’s medical director, Dr. Mary Abell, said that “most patients are below 200 percent of poverty.”

“We have a certain number of specialty services,” Erwin went on, “optometry, mammography, neurology, cardiology, allergy…and we’ll continue to have those over here,” he said, indicating the new building. Prior to renovation for its use as a clinic, the building housed a furniture store, which, Erwin said, made it easy to fit it for its new purpose.

After Katrina, St. Thomas managed to become a federally qualified health center, and federal funds helped support the purchase and renovation of the new building. The new facility will offer primary care in pediatrics and internal medicine and specialty care in rheumatology and nephrology, which focuses on kidney disease.

Mary Tucker-Malverue, who works in the clinic’s mammography section, wore bright blue and green colors that conveyed her enthusiasm about the event. Tucker-Malverue worked in banking before starting with St. Thomas roughly a year ago.

“The new building is a God-send,” she said. “It helps the area, so that there will be more places in the community to come to receive treatment,” Tucker-Malverue told The Louisiana Weekly. “So many of us are uninsured or under-insured and need to know that there are places where you can find some kind of help to maintain your health.”

“We really tried hard to not only have primary care,” Abell told The Louisiana Weekly, “but get access to some of the specialty services that are hard to access downtown at University Hospital.” She described how St. Thomas has provided 4,000 mammograms over the past 12 months. Abell described the Greater New Orleans Community Health Connection funding, which supports low-income residents’ visits to community clinics like St. Thomas for preventive care.

The city’s top health official, Dr. Karen DeSalvo, was also present for the festivities. She had only positive words, describing how the organization had “set an example for the nation.”

“St. Thomas Community Health Center is an anchor institution in this neighborhood,” DeSalvo said. “They have been not only providing care and services to the community, but they are providing jobs; they are providing moral support..and creating a place where people can feel safe.”

This article was originally published in the March 26, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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