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La Clinica serves Hispanic community's basic needs

10/3/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

A UMNS Report By Nancye Willis*

The patients Dr. David Moscowitz sees are often undocumented, uninsured and poor. Many have no place else to go for medical care.

But, thanks to La Clinica Latino Community Health Center, founded by United Methodist minister William Chignoli in 1993, the needs of St. Louis' Hispanic population are being met, despite language and social barriers.

The clinic is in the basement of the United Methodist Church of the New Community, an inner-city congregation that Chignoli leads as pastor. Besides medical services, La Clinica provides an array of social services, mental health care and an after-school program.

Moscowitz is among the volunteer medical workers who struggle with daily hurdles of shortages of pills and supplies. Still, he keeps coming back, because he knows many patients have no other options.

That was the case two years ago with Alfonso Vences, a Mexican immigrant.

"My husband was really sick. He had no insurance and he couldn't work," says his wife, Lisa Taylor.

She brought him to La Clinica, where he received treatment at no charge. While Taylor sat in the clinic's waiting room, she noticed an ad for an available position, applied and got the job.

The staff, which is 95 percent volunteer, works wonders, she says. "We see people we really can help, people with no insurance and no job. But sometimes we get disheartened when we can't help as much as we want."

La Clinica, an arm of Accion Social Communitaria (Hispanic/Latino Community Social Action), provides the equivalent of more than $1 million in services - medical and other - to 1,200 people a month. The time of volunteer medical staff, translators, and donated medical equipment and supplies from various sources contribute to the total.

Covenant relationships with several United Methodist congregations, and a grant from the denomination's Minority Group Self-Determination Fund, help defray expenses. Bishop Ann Sherer, who leads the church's Missouri Area, was instrumental in providing the building. Other religious groups, including the United Church of Christ-related Deaconess Foundation and the Jewish Fund for Human Needs, have provided donations and grants.

La Clinica operates on the premise that the special social needs of Hispanic people have not been met by traditional U.S. model of social and health care delivery, addressing not only physical, but also social, emotional and spiritual needs.

In doing an evaluation with Washington University's School of Social Work, Chignoli learned that 67 percent of the Latino residents in the area have some form of clinical depression, resulting from the lack of identity that they experience when they enter the United States - the loss of their culture, separation from family and struggles with discrimination.

"Plus they receive less money than the minimum wage because they are undocumented," Chignoli says. "It's a new kind of slavery." The dream of having a better life in America is not easy, he says.

La Clinica's staff includes 22 physicians and 10 dentists, as well as registered nurses, nurse practitioners, dental assistants, mental health providers, social workers and educators. All medical staff is voluntary, except for a clinical coordinator, required by law for consistency. "Everybody is bilingual," Chignoli says.

From operating one day a week in the beginning, La Clinica is open until 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.

La Clinica also provides services through the government's Women, Infants and Children program, including the expertise of nutritionists for pregnant women.

The after-school program, sponsored by the Washington University School of Language, provides tutoring to children ages 7 to 12. "We create a bridge between our tutors and the parents because the parents do not speak English and they have no communication with the teachers (at school)," he says. The program also provides physical education, entertainment and food for the kids.

Chignoli plans to move La Clinica into a rehabbed building near the church next year, and he will turn the church basement into a day-care center - filling another pressing need for working parents. Architects, lawyers, contractors and others are donating their services to help La Clinica, he says. "For me personally this is an example of the integration of the community with the church."

Accion Social Communitaria estimates St. Louis' growing Hispanic population at 40,000-50,000, increasing by as many as three families each week. Although its client base is 75 percent-80 percent Hispanic, service to immigrants from places like Bosnia and Asian countries like Vietnam and Laos is increasing.

"We like to integrate the communities," Chignoli says, "… (to) demonstrate our good will and good intention for working together."

La Clinica is an Advance special of the United Methodist Church, which means 100 percent of the donations designated for it go straight to the project. Checks can be made out to the local church and dropped in the collection plate, or made out to "Advance GCFA" and sent to P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, N.Y. 10087-9068. Credit-card donors can call (888) 252-6174. Designate the check for Advance No. 561476 or 561475.

More information on La Clinica and Accion Social Communitaria is available at online.

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*Willis is editor for the Public Information Team at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn. Tim Tanton with United Methodist News Service contributed to this report.

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