News Column

Riopedre Ensures Immigrants Get Health Care

April 19, 2013
Jorge Riopedre (Image: Vimeo)
Jorge Riopedre (Image: Vimeo)

Jorge Riopedre, an influential networker in the St. Louis Hispanic community, has morphed into the role of executive director of a nonprofit health clinic.

In his latest incarnation, he is running Casa de Salud, which translates to "House of Health" in Spanish. The St. Louis organization provides clinical and mental health care for the uninsured, with a special focus on the Latino community.

"We're proud to do what we do here," Riopedre said. "Here's the next generation of immigrants who come to the United States with hope of a better life, and here's Casa. ... It's a feel-good job."

In 2010, Riopedre served as the paid executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for Metropolitan St. Louis. In 2008 and 2009, he was the chamber's volunteer chairman and president. He previously ran two independent video production companies in the St. Louis area.

Casa de Salud opened its doors in 2010. Last year, the clinic delivered more than 10,000 patient services to an estimated 4,000 individuals, Riopedre said.

Patients pay a $25 fee for an office visit.

Casa de Salud mainly serves immigrants and asks no questions about a person's immigration status.

About half of these patients are undocumented workers, Riopedre said. Many do manual labor, including construction and landscaping, or work in service businesses, such as restaurants and hotels.

Casa de Salud also provides counseling services for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

The clinic serves adults only and refers children to the People's Health Center. Unlike adults, immigrant children often have insurance through federal programs.

Providing the uninsured with heavily discounted health care is in the public interest, Riopedre said, in part because it means that fewer costs are passed along to other consumers. An office visit is much less expensive than emergency room treatment. Such doctor visits also protect the public from outbreaks of communicable diseases.

Riopedre, who grew up in the Tampa area, was the product of immigrants. Tending to the poor, he said, reflects traditional Christian values.

Casa de Salud has an annual budget of $1.2 million, which includes cash and in-kind services. St. Louis University provides the clinic's building on the corner of Chouteau and Compton avenues.

The clinic's staff of 25 full-time and part-time employees includes a registered nurse as well as licensed social workers, medical assistants and receptionists. It also relies on 39 volunteer physicians, along with 15 volunteer "navigators" who help connect patients with other clinics and hospitals.

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