Though there are plenty of white lab coats, stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs, nothing about this room feels clinical or scary.
Unlike the anxiety-ridden atmosphere of a clinic waiting room, the second floor of the University City Library has been transformed into a communal gathering space where doctors just happen to provide medical care.
Perhaps that’s why the dozens of men and women who mingle throughout the space on an October Saturday seem so at ease – comfortable with the volunteers who politely ask them to stand on a scale, read from an eye chart, or roll up their sleeves for a flu shot.
The volunteers from HPES care for the patients with remarkable warmth and efficiency, a feat they manage to achieve in eight different languages – Korean, Mandarin, Russian, Bosnian, Farsi, Vietnamese, Spanish and English.
HPES, a nonprofit and 2016 Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund grantee, strives to provide basic healthcare screenings to anyone 18 and older, with a focus on the underserved and uninsured.
The standard screenings include everything from mammography and EKGs to vision and mental health assessments.
What’s unique about the organization is that they have no residency requirements and no insurance requirements. They do not ask for identification.
“That’s particularly important because among certain populations they don’t have documentation or identification,” said Diane Berry, executive director of HPES. “We want to be a healthcare access without barriers. Whatever they need for that next step, they can get access to health care no questions asked.”
Once a patient has been seen by HPES and gone through the standard screenings, they are referred to a medical office if they need a follow-up appointment. HPES goes the distance to make sure the patient isn’t lost in the healthcare system.
“When they’re referred, we pay for the first appointment, otherwise they’re not going to follow through,” Berry said. “The other thing we do to ensure that they do follow through is we have the appointments right here where they sign up and we give them verification. It’s all taken care of here.”
HPES recognizes that their patients may not be able to speak the language to get the doctor’s office on the phone and make the appointment.
Even with a team of volunteer doctors and medical students, explaining the screenings and health issues to patients who speak eight languages is a constant challenge. That’s why HPES relies heavily on their volunteer interpreters.
The grant they received from SOS helps HPES train their interpreters as certified medical interpreters, a program that gives them the medical knowledge to be able to explain what the English-speaking doctors are saying in the patient’s native language.
Eric, a Spanish interpreter, recently went through the certified medical interpreter training. He was there at the October screening, helping Spanish-speaking patients interpret the registration process and explaining what the doctors needed the patients to know.
“I am the interpreter between the doctors here and the patients who come to take the tests,” Eric said. “My role here is translating what the doctor says from English to Spanish.”
But the trained interpreters do much more than just translate. They are also instrumental in spreading the word about HPES’ services in the community.
They are often trusted members of their communities, who can help eliminate fears a potential patient may have when they’re coming to a health screening, Berry said.
HPES was founded in 2000 by the late Dr. Robert Payne, a professor of medicine at Washington University.
“He realized that his students needed more community experience hands on with real people,” Berry said. “He founded the organization as a way for his medical students to get that community practice, so that they would go on and advocate for the client. So that’s what we do.”
HPES continues to rely heavily on volunteers. It takes 32 volunteers to run one screening, including the doctors, Berry said. In addition to the certified medical training for interpreters, the funding from SOS helped pay for cultural competency training for all volunteers.
The doctors who volunteer at the screenings are from private practices throughout the region and medical students from the St. Louis University School of Medicine.
Cohny, who came to St. Louis from Vietnam in 1980, visited HPES for the first time in October and was pleased with his experience.
“I know a lot of Vietnamese, they have a difficult time to get the healthcare,” Cohny said. “I’m willing to drive them to come here to get the healthcare. It’s really, really helpful for them.”