UCC’s Deaconess Nurse Ministry Role in Interfaith Clinic Helps Provide Free Health Care to St. Louis Community

Deaconess nurse Virginia Springmeyer works with a client at the Salam Clinic at St. Peter’s UCC.

It all started July 19, 2008, when the doors of the first Salam Clinic of the Muslim Services for Islamic Foundation of St. Louis opened at the Lane Tabernacle Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church in north St. Louis. Fourteen Muslim physicians along with nurses from UCC-related Deaconess Nurse Ministry — and the church’s congregation — began the clinic with the hope of better serving people who otherwise might not get the health care they need.

“Deaconess Nurse Ministry has been working with the Salam clinics since the beginning,” says the Rev. Donna Smith-Pupillo, executive director of Deaconess.

The clinic is open every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., offering medical checkups, physicals, women’s health, screening services and treatment for such conditions as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, weight management, and cancer, among others. It also offers well-baby care and referrals to local hospitals and community services for more intensive treatment and rehabilitation.

The success of the clinic convinced the physicians to open a second site. Virginia Springmeyer, the Faith Community Nurse at St. Peter’s UCC in Ferguson, Mo., “wanted to help low-income adults who were underinsured or uninsured in Ferguson,” Smith-Pupillo says. “I approached the physician’s group and they said ‘yes’ to opening [a second site] in Ferguson.”

Both Smith-Pupillo and Springmeyer work at the St. Peter’s clinic, providing typical nursing services: initial assessments, health education follow-up, making sure lab work is ordered and follow up with the physician, and helping the clients with additional referrals.

Smith-Pupillo says the time spent teaching and listening often is the most important. “Support in the way of listening is so important for people who are outside the health care system,” she says. “The clinics see uninsured or under-insured adults. We see a lot of the working poor who need health care. We do physicals for folks who work in low-wage jobs like day cares, and for folks applying to become foster parents.”

The Salam Clinic currently is looking to expand to Epiphany UCC in south St. Louis. It also wants to add behavioral health to its work at St. Peter’s. This past January, Salam Clinic of the Muslim Services for Islamic Foundation of St. Louis was recognized by Temple Israel in St. Louis with the Malachi Interfaith Award, given annually to honor individuals and groups who have acted at the highest level of religious tradition with a positive course of action. The award showcases individuals, programs, and acts of outstanding excellence in the area of interfaith relations.

The importance of the partnership between Deaconess Nurse Ministry, Salam Clinic and the area churches can’t be underestimated, adds Smith-Pupillo. The work “brings people together to serve the community in ways that could not be done alone,” she says.

“All of the traditions have at their core the idea of service and that together, in doing service, the community is made more whole in more than just physical ways,” Smith-Pupillo adds. “The work is the best of interfaith work in serving others that need health and wholeness in our community.”

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