Since 2013, Danita Smith, RN, has been traveling around the St. Louis area to provide blood testing services to homebound clients, who are generally disabled or elderly. Through her My Blooming Health lab practice, Smith has gained a reputation for enabling people to monitor and maintain their health when they cannot leave their homes.
Now, My Blooming Health has expanded, and for the first time in seven years it has a physical office. The new My Blooming Health walk-in lab in Overland provides free and low-cost blood testing and DNA testing services, focusing on patients with little or no insurance coverage.
“We are not a very healthy community,” Smith said.
So, ever since she got her RN training at Lewis and Clark Community College, she has been trying to find ways to make healthcare more accessible. My Blooming Health started off as a blog, but then as people began to contact Smith for advice, she realized the need for a mobile lab testing service for disabled and elderly patients.
“We would use our personal vehicles and go out into the homes to do blood draws,” Smith explained. “If it takes a taxing effort for you to get out to get your blood work done, you don’t go. It’s a five-minute procedure, but it takes you all day to make it happen.”
And often, the barriers between a person and a lab test – like transportation, work schedules, or other commitments – may keep them from finding out critical information about their health.
“They don’t have a car, they physically are incapable, they can’t leave work, so I decided, I’ll just go out to the homes and do blood draws,” Smith said.
Now, My Blooming Health has both a mobile practice and a walk-in lab, and Smith partners with medical care providers across the region. “It was just going to be a little hobby!” she said.
My Blooming Health’s new walk-in office is meant to target a different demographic than those who use their in-home lab test services. This lab, though it welcomes everyone, is primarily designed to benefit younger uninsured clients. My Blooming Health offers highly discounted blood tests, and, crucially, helps connect patients to other forms of healthcare they might need.
Unlike most blood testing labs, My Blooming Health employs a resident social worker, Ebony Glover, who offers free consultations and can help connect patients to counseling, Medicare and Medicaid, and other community resources – directly from the lab testing office.
“Patients tend to talk while they’re having their blood drawn,” Smith said. “And they have different issues – maybe they’re elderly, they’re falling, they don’t know why. They don’t know what to do with it, how to handle it – but if we don’t have the answer, we know who our resources are, that we can bring someone in to help them. There’s always somebody.”
As part of the St. Louis Care Alliance, a volunteer group of care providers of various specialties, Smith is excited to help guide her patients through her network to fulfill their needs for a healthy life beyond just blood testing.
“Where can they get appropriate food?” she said. “Where can they get financial assistance for healthcare needs? Where can they go that is affordable for any kind of healthcare facility, whether that’s therapy, or long-term issues?”
Through a resource wall, as well as robust connections with everyone from doctors to home-care providers to food banks, Smith hopes to use the new walk-in lab as both a laboratory testing center and an educational space.
“People say, ‘Oh, I’m healthy, I haven’t been to a doctor in 20 years.’ Well, that’s why you think you’re healthy,” Smith said. “No one’s been able to tell you what’s going on because you haven’t asked, you haven’t had the test done. But if you get tested early and often you can catch things before they happen.”
To Smith, the importance of education around blood testing is personal: her father passed away of an undetected prostate cancer.
“By the time he found it, it had already metastasized to his bones,” she said. “And that happens a lot in our community, where people ignore the different symptoms. Like with diabetes and heart disease, they’re not getting tested because they feel okay. And they feel okay because they get used to the symptoms that their body is giving them.”
Compared with white men, African-American men are more likely to develop prostate cancer and are twice as likely to die of prostate cancer, according to a study from the National Cancer Institute. So, one of the blood levels that Smith recommends monitoring is PSA, a prostate-specific antigen that shows your risk of the disease.
In addition, she hopes more people in the St. Louis area pay attention to their basic metabolic profile, “Which gives you your electrolytes,” she said, “because if those are off then there’s definitely something going on with your overall system.”
She also sees large numbers of patients who need to monitor their blood glucose, which indicates diabetes or likelihood of diabetes, as well as patients who need to monitor their cholesterol.
My Blooming Health’s walk-in clinic offers resources to help people avoid falling through the cracks of the healthcare system.
“When I worked in the hospital, we’d discharge people, and it’s like they’d fall into a black hole,” she said. “You see them again, they pop back up when they’re in the emergency room. So how do you prevent them from falling into the black hole?”
For her, the way to stop people “falling into that black hole” is to give them a support network.
“And that’s where your various resources come in, but you have to know that those resources even exist,” she said. “So if my clients who come through here only know me, I can figure out where they need to go from there, if they tell me what their issue is.”