Standing Strong in the Face of Adversity
Martin Luther King Jr. noted that the ultimate measure of human beings is not where we stand in moments of comfort or convenience, but where we stand at times of challenge and controversy.
As the Chief Executive Officer of CareSTL Health, I have decided to stand with the community during these challenging times amongst so much controversy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just to put things in the right perspective, before COVID-19, our health center was fighting for our patients to have equal access to opioid funding. We were deep into addressing the increased crime rates within our community, looking for opportunities to expand access to care for our patients residing in the St. Louis North County area and strategically trying to recruit nurses during a very critical nursing shortage crisis.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Let me be the first to admit that I have never worked within a COVID-19 pandemic. I have seen many things during my 38 years of serving within the Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) movement, but I have never witnessed anything like this. I will admit, I initially panicked. Then, I dialed into my inner spirit. I had to remember to lead from the heart. As a longtime resident of the community that I serve, I vowed to focus on what is right for my community.
A part of our mission is to improve health outcomes in our community and to accomplish that by maintaining our CARE VALUES: customer service, community, commitment, compassion and competence.
When it was announced that 100% of the individuals who died of COVID-19 in St. Louis City was African American, it left me with no choice but to fight harder for testing kits and PPE supplies for our community. Over 94% of our patients are African American, 100% of our primary care sites are located in North St. Louis City. Majority of our employees are residents of North St. Louis City or County. I reached out to the media for help and they responded by providing coverage.
The one thing that I was not expecting, but I’m very grateful for, was the support I received from the employees. They showed up to serve our community. They shared their concerns, some cried, some prayed, but we continued to serve during a life threatening pandemic. We’re very aware that we’re the voice for the voiceless. We understand the African-American population lags behind the white population on many health indicators, like socio-economic factors, behavioral risk factors and emergency room visits.
Our CARE Values kicked in. We faced so many challenges. We had to close some sites because of flooding. Our board and staff was impacted by COVID-19. We had to quarantine, learn tele-health, implement mail order pharmacy, learn how to work from home (ZOOM), adjust to wearing PPE equipment, learn how to serve patients and practice social distancing at the same time and learn to say to our peers and co-workers I’m afraid without being embarrassed.
In spite of all the challenges, which include opening up 8 testing sites and being the first FQHC in the State of Missouri to open a pediatric only testing site, we know we must stay on the front line.
We will continue to be here for our patients, employees and the community as a whole, even during the COVID-19 pandemic no matter how bad it gets.