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St. Louis Character: Nicole Jenkins turns work at VA into urgent care for veterans

"At the VA, the workers were very overworked, there was repetitiveness."
Credit: SLBJ
Nicole Jenkins operates a veterans-focused urgent care at 901 Washington Ave., with more on the way.

ST. LOUIS — Nicole Jenkins had previously been an assistant at health care system Mercy, but was surprised by what she encountered in a later job, at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Atlanta.

"At Mercy, we thrived off of not just customer service, but efficiency," Jenkins said. "At the VA, the workers were very overworked, there was repetitiveness."

The St. Louis native asked herself how she could bring the former model to the government.

She says Lacy Clay, the former congressman for St. Louis, connected her with John Lewis, the congressman and civil rights activist, who told her to go back to her hometown and open a sub-specialty urgent care solely for veterans.

Called Veterans Advantage Urgent Care, it recently opened in a 4,200-square-foot space at 1901 Washington Ave., a space owned by an entity connected to David Rothschild of Red Brick Management.

What is the need for this kind of business? There was a disconnect between the veterans and the VA hospital. Where veterans felt they were unappreciated. They don't complain much, but they did feel that something needed to be done.

I wanted my specialty areas in this medical facility to cover all of the huge problems that veterans have, which is PTSD, pain, chiropractors, X-rays. They have acute urgent-care needs but they don't need to stay in the ER for eight hours. There was a wait time just to be seen at VA hospitals.

If you know veterans, they want something of their own. They want to be able to connect with each other. We don't accept anyone else.

We also have a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, fluoroscopy machine, X-ray machine.

The VA can send patients down here, which helps them cut down on wait times.

We now have 14 staff members.

How do the economics work? We utilize the Community Care Program, which allows veterans to get care at an outside provider. It came about because there's more veterans than there are facilities. So each year the VA puts aside community care dollars, which are for medical facilities out in the community that aren't affiliated with the government. Revenue also comes from private insurance; Tricare, the military insurance program; and Medicare.

What did it take to open this facility? For my build out it cost me $150,000. I've put together a package to sell subsidiaries. I have someone in Dallas now looking. Those new locations will require a $480,000 investment each.

I also plan to open a location in Dellwood, plus a couple more in rural Missouri. Puerto Rico and Florida — Jacksonville or Tallahassee — are also possibilities.

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