Health fair organizer aims to make a difference

Nile Trice helped the health clinic patients fill out a form that included a quick assessment of their health, asking a 10-year-old boy, "When was the last time you visited a doctor?" Follow-up questions concerned whether the patient has asthma or a family history of diabetes, exercises, eats healthy food and more.

Nile, a senior at Pattonville High School, was part of an all-volunteer effort Feb. 13 to provide uninsured and underinsured people access to health care. A member of St. Matthew Parish in north St. Louis, Nile organized the free health fair at CHIPS Health and Wellness Center, a nonprofit organization on the grounds of Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish in north St. Louis.

The health fair was just one of many ways Nile has reached out to the community. Since the sixth grade, her birthday parties have doubled as fundraisers for organizations such as the USO, the Wounded Warrior Project and Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital. In 2011, Nile organized a fundraiser for Lewis Place residents in north St. Louis who were victims of a tornado. More than 100 people attended the event at the St. Nicholas Parish Skating Rink. In all, she has raised $5,300 for charities.

Erin Weyerich, director of operations at CHIPS, said that Nile's offer last fall to organize the health fair is unusual, especially from a high school student. "But she's very capable," Weyerich said. "We're really proud of her."

Nile arranged for the volunteer providers — physicians, chiropractors, nurses and more. She obtained donated food from a grocery chain and visited schools, churches, homeless shelters and other places to hand out flyers advertising the event.

Ruby Trice said her daughter is strong in her faith, and her compassion "is wrapped up in that."

Nile agreed: "Faith is very important in my life, especially during this time of Lent when we reflect on Jesus' sacrifice. I'm doing this project especially during Lent because it's my way of showing the Lord thanks for His sacrifice. Since He gave to me, I'm giving back to the community."

St. Matthew has been a constant in her life. Her parents, Ruby and Ramon Trice, were married there, and she has friends from the parish.

The high school senior organized the health fair as a service project and to take care of people who can't afford good insurance. "If I help one person today, I feel I will have made a difference," Nile said. "A lot of people see me as a role model, but I just see myself as a high school student wanting to make a difference in the community."

Weyerich said that the outreach is similar to CHIPS efforts in reaching people who earn too much for Medicaid but not enough to get government help on insurance costs, the "gap" that resulted from legislators' refusal to fund Medicaid expansion in the state. Anyone attending the fair who was found to have a possible health problem was referred to the CHIPS clinic or their medical provider.

Joice Westfall-Hollingsworth, a nurse and St. Matthew parishioner, volunteered to do health screenings. She jumped at the chance to help Nile. "She does so much. She's just a remarkable young lady," Westfall-Hollingsworth said.

Another St. Matthew parishioner, Carol Beckel, a physical therapist and assistant professor at St. Louis University, said Nile is active at the parish and is a good student. "She has high goals and works hard to achieve those," Beckel said.

Nile's attention to detail included having word-search games for children to do while they were waiting and stickers rewarding their good behavior. She put medical students who volunteered to work in various roles.

Olivia Wilfong, also a Pattonville High senior, looked forward to serving as a volunteer since she is interested in a career in the medical field. She praised Nile: "I really look up to her for doing this. She goes out of her way to help people." 

CHIPS

In the late 1980s the pastors of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Mathew the Apostle and St. Alphonsus Ligouri ("The Rock") parishes were overwhelmed by the growing needs of people who lived in neighborhoods surrounding their parishes. The pastor of St. Teresa of Avila, now known as Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish, asked nurse practitioner and public health executive Judy Bentley to create a program that would help give residents of this north St. Louis community access to affordable health care.

Bentley began offering health assessments and referrals in a clinic in the basement of St. Teresa Church. That clinic quickly grew with the number of people seeking health care who could not afford either the fees at federally funded clinics or the deductibles required by Medicare or Medicaid.

Today, CHIPS is a critical access point for health care and social services, providing more than 30,000 service encounters a year. The only free clinic in the area, its providers, volunteers and donors give more than $1 million in time, professional skills and financial support each year to bring preventive and primary care, dentistry, behavioral health, wellness programs, health education and managed referrals to a high-risk population.

The CHIPS team encourages clients to take personal responsibility for their health and wellness. As a result, less than one percent of CHIPS' clients were hospitalized last year, saving the community approximately $8.7 million in charity care. 

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