St. Louis County Dept. of Public health consolidates select services in North County to counter ongoing staffing shortage

Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 10:24 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - As the pandemic has proven how important access to healthcare is, St. Louis County is temporarily consolidating services of its two North County clinics.

It’s news that at first worried resident Derick Bird.

“It’s kind of scary because we actually need healthcare,” Bird said. “We need the attention.”

Bird lives in North County. He said many neighbors feel shorted on healthcare.

“The [clinics] here are adequate, but there is room for improvement,” Bird said.

Enter Dr. Kanika Cunningham.

“All people deserve access to quality care regardless of where you live,” Dr. Cunningham said.

Dr. Cunningham is St. Louis County’s new health director. The North County native takes the reins of a department that’s had no official leader for years.

She said she shares Bird’s worries about healthcare accessibility, mental health needs, and substance use on local streets.

“I bring my personal experiences navigating broken systems with myself, my dad, family members,” Dr. Cunningham explained. “I think that’s a unique perspective.”

Dr. Cunningham said staffing for her department is one of the biggest challenges. There are several clinics to carry the patient load in the area, but all are troubled with staffing shortages.

“I don’t want people’s appointments getting canceled because we didn’t have staffing needs,” Cunningham shared. “This is a safer option to make sure we can get people to their appointments, and they can access quality care.’

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health’s two North County locations, the John C. Murphy Health Center and the North Central Community Health Clinic, cared for 31,000 plus patients in 2022. The two facilities are just six miles apart.

But now, some services from the John C. Murphy, will be consolidated to the North Central location because nurse and medical assistant vacancies are crippling care.

“This is a huge decision, so we want to make sure the individual being asked to transition to a different clinic is not harmed,” Dr. Cunningham said.

Services, including family pediatricians, OBGYN, OT, AND PT, are moving temporarily to the North Central Community Health Clinic.

The county department of public health could not provide a timeline for those services to return to the North Hanley facility.

The Director said lack of funds and low salaries are factors. She said a fix could be getting “Federally Qualified Health Center” status or FQHC lookalike status.

Dr. Cunningham said that could bring money to up quality of care for patients and staff.

“We need to be intentional about our efforts in North County, making sure we do not leave out that population that has been left out in the past,” Dr. Cunningham said.

She said she can’t speak for her predecessors but said there is a commitment to helping all. A notion that brings joy to Derick Bird.

“It excites me that someone is thinking of us and wants to make it better. that’s all we’ve been asking for this entire time,” Bird said.