Medical clinic at Covenant Place is just the beginning

Takisha Lovelace is the practice manager of the Washington University Geriatric Primary Care and Weight Management Clinic, which recently opened at Covenant Place. Two Washington University physicians and a nurse practitioner see patients out of a space in the CHAI Apartments building.  

David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

A new health facility is up and running to provide services to residents of Covenant Place as well as to older adults in the surrounding neighborhood.

“Things are going really well,” said Joan Denison, executive director of the senior housing complex on the Millstone Campus. “There are patients who live at Covenant Place and in the greater community who are taking advantage of this wonderful practice and this convenient location.” 

Staffed by Washington University Physicians, the Geriatric Primary Care Medical Clinic opened in late November and is designed to provide on-site assistance to seniors through two doctors and a nurse practitioner who work out of a space in the Chai Building. 

The idea is part of a more ambitious effort related to Covenant’s ongoing building program, which aims to replace all three of its residential structures over the next few years. When the second tower, the Cahn Family Building, is completed by midyear, the clinic will become part of the Mirowitz Center, a first-floor suite of services for older adults including everything from legal assistance to dining options to health and educational opportunities. Audiologists, podiatrists and dentists as well as physical, occupational and speech therapists will rotate through the newly developed center.

“[The center] is a very integrated program looking at all the sides of what we need to remain healthy and independent as we age,” Denison said. “Then we are also in this center providing space for other service providers. For instance, during open enrollment for Medicare, we’ll have Medicare navigators there so people can make appointments and see which insurance policy best meets their needs.” 

Covenant’s neighbors will also benefit. The area’s heavy concentration of seniors led to its designation as a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, or NORC. An estimated 16,000 people over age 65 live within three miles of the Millstone Campus.

“The patient appointments are typically longer than you get with a primary care practice,” Denison said. “I think we’re also seeing that people really appreciate the convenience of having it near where they live.” 

Dr. David Carr, medical director of the clinic, said the area has the second-most-elderly demographic profile in the St. Louis region.

“Eventually, if this model works well in providing high-quality care for older adults, maybe it is something that can be replicated,” he said. 

Carr believes that the new facility will prevent emergency room visits by giving attention to residents where they live, allowing problems to be discovered before they become crises. 

“The hope is, with a primary care clinic embedded on the premises, we can get people in and see them or, if they are not feeling good, maybe we go to their apartment and see them there and hopefully provide care that heads things off at the pass,” he said. 

Covenant has logged 240 emergency medical service calls over the past several years. 

“We’ve seen from our own surveys that many people, as they age, instead of being proactive and maintaining good health, because of the difficulty of getting to the doctor with transportation and huge medical facilities that are difficult to navigate, they just stop going to the doctor and wait until they are very ill,” Denison said. 

Dr. Tim Holden, who is also on staff at the clinic, said he feels the integrative approach being taken by Covenant is the right way to move forward.

“We’re learning as a field in medicine that health is a lot more [than just] about disease,” Holden said. “It is about looking at the holistic picture of how people live, what their access is to food, nutrition, exercise, the neighborhood they live in, the people they interact with every day.”

The new clinic, which is bolstered by a $1.8 million grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health, will also provide training and research opportunities for Washington University. Students from the schools of medicine, pharmacy, nursing and social work may benefit from hands-on experience at Covenant. Meanwhile, the complex’s stable population of 400 residents represents a chance to collect useful data on medical outcomes over time. 

Denison continues to look forward to the day when the clinic will move to its permanent home in the soon-to-be-erected Cahn Family Building. She said the facility has already added a weight management specialist and a nurse practitioner specializing in cardiac issues and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). After relocation to the Cahn Building, plans are in place to expand the staff to include a wellness coordinator to help make appointments for other services and a community health nurse to provide education and one-on-one support. 

“It really is bringing together different services and resources offered throughout our community into a single hub,” Denison said. “We like to think that it is a place where you can come and find the services and resources you need and find your peer group to remain active and engaged throughout your life.”