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SLU’s Health Resource Center Receives Grants to Increase Patient Access Amid Pandemic

by Maggie Rotermund
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Maggie Rotermund
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ST. LOUIS, MO – The Health Resource Center (HRC), run by Saint Louis University School of Medicine students and faculty, received two grants to help support its mission to provide free medical care for the St. Louis community.

The grants from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Foundation courtesy of The Humana Foundation, totaling $25,000, will help the clinic improve its facilities and increase patient access to primary care services.

Health Resource Center

A patient is seen by SLU medical students at the Health Resource Center. SLU archive photo by Steve Dolan.

“From improved supply storage to additional exam tables, funding from the AAFP Foundation will allow patients at the HRC to have a more efficient and quality health care experience,” said Niel Patel, a second-year medical student. “In addition, as the clinic continues to provide care throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a portion of the funding will be used to maintain additional safety precautions for both patients and volunteers. These precautions include PPE and air purification among others.”

Patel serves as the grant writing coordinator for the Health Resource Center. He sought out the Family Medicine Cares USA grant from the AAFP Foundation.

“Identifying grant opportunities to help support the HRC became more difficult as the number of fundraising opportunities shrunk during the pandemic,” Patel said. “We decided to apply in April 2020 with hopes of receiving money by the end of the calendar year.”

The HRC is one of many free health clinics nationwide that benefit from grants provided by a signature program of the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation called Family Medicine Cares USA. Additional funding to support free clinics in 2020 through the Family Medicines Cares USA program was made possible by a grant from The Humana Foundation.

Due to the pandemic, the AAFP Foundation announced its 2020 awards ahead of schedule.

“Free clinics, such as SLU’s Health Resource Center, are a prime example of the value of family medicine and family doctors to American communities like St. Louis. Not only do they provide much needed primary care services to a population with a critical need, they also provide a venue for connecting patients into community resources which can drastically improve their access to care,” said Julie Anderson, M.D., president of the AAFP Foundation. “The need is great, and it’s even larger now than it was before. These clinics are great resources, that we are proud to support.”

Since 1994, School of Medicine students and physicians have been committed to providing free health care services in an academic environment. The HRC offers eight different free clinic sessions to meet patients’ needs. In recent years, the work of the medical students has been complemented by clinics and collaborations provided by nurse practitioner, physician assistant, physical therapy, and medical family therapy students.

The HRC shut down in March and remained closed until mid-July. The clinic first transitioned to reopening by implementing telehealth opportunities, along with performing wellness checks on patients who were regular visitors to the clinic but had not been able to be seen for several months.

Patel said additional safety measures were implemented to keep patients and volunteers safe. A patient screening position was added to check patients for COVID-related symptoms and all personnel at the clinic are required to wear PPE as part of standard protocol.

“As the Health Resource Center seeks to expand its outreach and capacity, the support of the AAFP Foundation will accelerate its growth in primary care for the community,” Patel said. “This funding will greatly help alleviate increased operational costs due to a higher demand of PPE to continue seeing patients in a safe manner.”

Certain elements of different clinics were moved to digital platforms to help reduce the amount of required in person interaction. In addition to primary care, the HRC offers clinics for asthma and allergies; cardiology; diabetes, foot health, physical therapy, psychiatry and well woman visits. Smoking cessation and geriatric assessments are also offered.

“These grants will provide the tools to inspire students and faculty to think outside the box in working with patients and the community,” said Fred Rottnek, M.D., director of Community Medicine at SLU. “COVID-19 has created a moral imperative to innovate.”

Sharon Frey, M.D., medical director of the HRC and a professor of infectious diseases at SLU, said she and SLU continue to be “very proud of the care the students and faculty such as Niel Patel and Dr. Rottnek provide to our community.”

The Saint Louis University Health Resource Center is in the Victor Roberts Building at 1408 N. Kingshighway Blvd.

About the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation

The Foundation serves as the philanthropic arm of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Its mission is to advance the values of family medicine through humanitarian, educational, and scientific philanthropy dedicated to improving health. For more information, please visit www.aafpfoundation.org.

Saint Louis University School of Medicine

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: infectious disease, liver disease, cancer, heart/lung disease, and aging and brain disorders.