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Saturday, June 22, 2024


Aug. 17, 2001 – The St. Thomas East End Medical Center will be participating for the first time in National Community Health Center Week, which starts Sunday. The observance happens to coincide with the launch of the center's own web site.
Both represent the kind of community outreach that for the center's young medical director, Dr. Carlos Garcia, is a satisfying part of his job.
Carmen White, assistant administrator and chair of the group that has organized the week's events, said, "We hope to see about 40 to 50 people a day." Visitors will be able to get an overview of all the services the center has to offer, as well as certain free testing, medical counseling and, in the case of young people ages 5-18, free immunizations.
"The employees are really excited about it — we've never done anything like this before," White said. "The center has so much to offer, we want people to know about it."
The open house hours are from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The center is located in Tutu Park Mall adjacent to the Food Court.
Testing services include cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose, vision, prostate cancer and HIV OraSure screening. Counseling is offered in the areas of nutrition, breast and cervical cancer, and Medicare and air-ambulance services.
Thursday has been reserved for employees at the mall; Friday similarly is for government, hotel and industrial workers. Saturday morning is for men and boys. "We hope fathers will bring their sons for testing," White said, adding, "It's not easy getting boys to take shots!"
The full schedule of the week's offerings is posted on the center's new website, at www.steemc.freeservers.com. (The "steemc" stands for St. Thomas East End Medical Center.) The site was designed by center systems analyst Ricky Morales. "It just took about a week" to set it up, he said, and not all of the center's options are posted yet. "We're happy to have it up, but we'll be moving to a new hosting site," he said.
Taetia Phillips-Dorsett, local project coordinator of the federal Ryan White Title III HIV Program, said she wants people to be aware that the HIV-OraSure screening, a blood test for the human immunodeficiency virus which can lead to AIDS, is available and free. "There is still a stigma hanging over the testing," Phillips-Dorsett said. "We want to break through that. Anybody at all can get HIV; it's not limited to homosexuals and drug users. We want to educate people."
The man behind the medical care
Garcia also is celebrating. What seems most meaningful to the 30-year-old doctor is that he now sees about 10 patients a day, compared to one a day when he began working at the center almost a year ago. This is his first appointment, and he got it through a federal program that places young doctors in communities in need of health care.
"I love St. Thomas," Garcia said. "I'm from Puerto Rico; so, even though it's a different culture, I knew the Virgin Islands already."
Also saying that he loves his job, Garcia eagerly described his plans for the center. "I want to raise quality improvement and update medical records," he said, "because that way we can become an accredited medical organization" — something he hopes to accomplish by next spring.
What brought about his increase in patient visits? "I really don't know for sure," Garcia says, smiling. "It's word of mouth. We tell patients to tell their friends, tell their relatives. We want people to come to us," he said. "People used to think we were small with just one doctor." Being bilingual, Garcia tries to reach the local Spanish-speaking population. "I want them to know there's somebody here who can understand them," he said.
Garcia, an internist, supervises four other doctors now, plus a fifth who is part-time but will soon become full-time. The center professional staff includes a pediatrician, a general practitioner, a podiatrist and a midwife. "They all have years of experience," he said. But he added that his boss, Dr. Keith Callwood, the center executive director, "lets me do what I think is right."
In Garcia's small office are more than medical reference books and certificates on the walls. An oversized orange basketball, for instance, sits in one corner, along with some stuffed toys. "You've got to make the kids happy," he says with a smile, hoisting the ball. "We're like a family here; we all take care of each other."
Garcia's wife, Aileen, is completing a medical fellowship at the University of Puerto Rico where she and their two young children live. "I get over on weekends, or she comes over here," Garcia said. "But when she finishes her school next year, she will move over and practice here." He added, "She loves the Virgin Islands, too!"
The center has no dentist so far, Garcia noted. He's working on that, along with creating an "urgent care" section. "That's not an emergency room," he explained. "It's for things like an acute asthma or high blood pressure attack."
Formerly called the East End Family Health Center, the facility recently became a not-for-profit public benefit corporation. Funded entirely through the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, it receives some maintenance and support from the V.I. Health Department through an affiliation agreement. It accepts all medical insurance and charges for services based on a federal sliding scale based on income.
White said the center is still in a transition period. It now has more autonomy than before, and although it still is under the oversight of the Health Department, it doesn't have the local government's financial burdens.
Garcia must find a new home for the center by next year. "The feds said we have to move," he said. The mall location was supposed to have been a temporary one after Hurricane Marilyn destroyed the center's old East End Clinic facility in Anna's Retreat. "We're looking at two sites now," he said while walking from the clinic area through the mall food court to the center's administrative offices on the other side. "We shouldn't be walking through here carrying medical records or anything else," he said, darting around a crowded table.
In addition to his own increase in patients, Garcia takes pride in the growing numbers of overall clients the center is seeing. As of last November, the center had recorded 11,000 "encounters." He explained, "That's everybody, family planning, counseling services, anyone who comes to the center." Figures for this year aren't available yet, he said.
But, "Oh, please tell your friends, tell anyone they can come to us," he said, adding, "I wish we could be open longer hours."

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