By Suzanne Vanderhoef
The Archdiocese of St. Louis, in collaboration with the Rural Parish Workers and Catholic Charities, have established a mobile healthcare unit by customizing what is essentially an RV that will serve the poor and uninsured in rural areas of Southeast Missouri.
Inside the mobile clinic are two full-sized exam rooms, as well as a lab and reception desk. The unit will be computerized and will utilize electronic medical records as well as other state-of-the-art technology.
The mobile clinic is the brainchild of St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson. Under his direction, much of the planning and execution was spearheaded by Sister Marie Paul Lockerd. But beyond that, Sister Marie Paul had a special draw to the project…especially when she’s working under her other title: Dr. Lockerd.
“When I entered religious life in the early 80s, I was asked to go into medicine. I was a sister first. My prime aspiration in life was to know and love and serve the Lord. And in that, in my religious vocation, came the gift of becoming a physician. It’s really a wonderful mix,” Sister Lockerd, RSM, DO said.
After 20 years working as a rural physician in Minnesota, Dr. Lockert says she’s excited to now be running her family practice out of this mobile unit.
“It is designed to take care of the working poor. So those who are trying to make it, they might have a job at McDonald’s or a factory but can’t afford health insurance. We are taking care of anyone without insurance who is poor. And so, family practice, it’ll be hypertension, heart disease, lung disease, gastric or GI disease. It’ll be anything a family practice physician can do.”
The clinic is a charity-driven effort, supported by donations and grants. However, all three area Catholic healthcare systems – Mercy, SSM and Ascension – have partnered with the Archdiocese and Catholic Charities to help provide electronic medical records, specialty services, and medical supplies.
In addition, Rural Parish Workers, who are already well-integrated into the community also play a role.
“I’m helping to get volunteers to staff the clinic and also to get people to come to the clinic,” explains Natalie Villmer, Director of the Rural Parish Workers of Christ the King. “People come to us and we have them fill out an application for food or whatever, and on that application is a question: ‘Do you have health insurance?’ So, we can draw from those applications and tell people about the clinic.”
Staffed by all volunteer doctors, nurses, and social workers, the mobile unit is starting off serving just one parish in Cadet, Mo. with the intention of branching out to other rural parishes after a few months.
“Out of that parish, we’ll have a regular day that we come every day to that parish so that we’ll have follow-ups, so the patients if they’re put on blood pressure medicine, they’ll have follow-up, so it won’t be just an urgent care, it will be primary care,” says Sister Marie Paul. “It’s a great mission. It has a lot of support and a lot of potential to do good.”