How Rich, a Clinic for Downtown Loft Dwellers

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At long last, downtown loft dwellers suffering from, say, a bad sore throat, have a place nearby to go for treatment -- a walk-in, no-appointment-needed clinic where they can expect to see a doctor faster than you can say Marcus Welby. No more cooling their heels in the emergency room at Barnes-Jewish.


The Downtown Urgent Care clinic opened earlier this month at 916 Olive Street, in the Old Post Office District, just across the street from the Schnucks market and pharmacy under construction.

In a breathless press release to pitch its grand opening celebration March 31 -- the gala will feature a live steel band, hors d' oeuvers, wine and champagne -- clinic officials exclaimed, "Everything is going swimmingly downtown. This is not like your typical urgent care center. We intend to cater to the more discerning client, who lives and/or works downtown, but wants to see a top board-certified physician, just a few minutes walk from the office, in a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere, and get treated like a VIP."

Just don't try going there if you're indigent or uninsured. The clinic only treats those with health coverage or the funds to pay for the appointment. 

The medical office is the brainchild of Dr. Sonny Saggar, a 41-year-old emergency room doctor at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield. A British transplant who has "dabbled in real estate," Saggar bought the space a year ago for $1.1 million and spent another $2 million renovating the ground-floor medical offices.

Sagger thinks his clinic, replete with six exam rooms, four doctors and a lab, will be well received by most of the 11,000 residents who live downtown, particularly professional types who are insured. (The clinic will accept patients with Medicaid.) What most inspired him to open the clinic, says Sagger, is the inequality of medical service that exists in the region.

"After twelve years in West County, I noticed how many people won't go to other areas for treatment," says Sagger. "I know a lot of people downtown who will came all they way up here (to Chesterfield) for care. And I said, 'Why on earth would they do that?' Well, they want VIP service."

Robert Fruend, CEO of the St. Louis Regional Health Commision, says the clinic is "a great step in the evolution of downtown." But, he stresses, "Urgent care is no substitute for primary care."

Currently, notes Fruend, downtown residents lacking health coverage can seek treatment at the Grace Hill Neighborhood Health Centers in Soulard and in north city, as well as the nonprofit ConnectCare clinic at 5535 Delmar Boulevard, on the westerly fringe of the city.

Bill Siedoff, director of the St. Louis Department of Human Services, says that most urgent care clinics in the St. Louis region are being built in the western suburbs, and most of downtown's indigent or homeless residents are usually forced to get medical attention in the ER's at Barnes-Jewish or St. Louis University hospital.

Brian Ireland, a caseworker at New Life Evangelistic Center, is concerned that Saggar's downtown clinic continues a worrisome trend. "It follows the path," says Ireland, "that we've seen downtown the past ten years -- that all the resources going into the area east of Jefferson are being geared for the upper middle class and upper class. It's all about a gentrified downtown." 

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