Since opening in 2008 in St. Louis City, Washington University/ St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s The SPOT (Supporting Positive Opportunities for Teens) youth clinic has treated more than 10,000 youth between the ages of 13 to 24. The one-stop, drop-in clinic offers free, confidential medical care, mental health counseling, testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV, and other services.

But what became obvious over the years was that many SPOT patients came from the north St. Louis County municipalities of Ferguson, Florissant and Jennings.

“The majority of St. Louis County youth we see are from north St. Louis County,” says Washington University physician Katie Plax, MD, who is director of adolescent medicine at St. Louis Children’s Hospital (SLCH) and medical director for The SPOT. “We wanted to figure out something that would be convenient and closer to them.”

At the same time, Jennings Senior High School Principal Dayle Burgdorf was looking for ways to keep kids at school. Burgdorf learned that the long treks some students must make to take care of chronic health conditions are a major cause of absenteeism. She then met with Washington University adolescent medicine physician Sarah Garwood, MD, a physician at The SPOT and SLCH.

“The idea of bringing the clinic to the kids is very appealing to us,” says Burgdorf.

The Jennings School District modified a room to house the clinic, and funding from the St. Louis County Children’s Services Fund supports this collaborative effort. The new school-based program offers mental health counseling, case management and wellness education. The team hopes to provide medical services

in the near future, but at this time funding to provide medical care has not yet been achieved.

“This is an opportunity to make health care services accessible for students and families,” says Anthony Robinson, EDD, director of secondary education at Jennings Senior High School. “It helps build healthy communities and, in turn, helps students with academic performance.”

While only Jennings High School students will be able to use the clinic, Drs. Garwood and Plax and The SPOT Program Director Kim Donica, LCSW, view this as a starting point to open similar clinics in other north St. Louis County schools.

And though the school clinic will have a slightly different focus, both clinics will operate from the same set of core principles: creating community partnerships, involving the medical science community to optimize care, and taking action to improve health care delivery for kids.

The SPOT’s mission, however, goes beyond medicine. “I don’t think medical people speak about it enough but really this is about love,” says Dr. Plax. “You do this work because it comes from your heart. And you do this kind of engagement because you have a deep appreciation for that person sitting before you.”


When The SPOT opened its doors at is first location at 4169 Laclede Ave., organizers expected to serve 500 youth in the first year. Instead, clinicians served that many in three months. In 2009, The SPOT’s first full year of operation, 1,879 new patients sought assistance.

“The numbers have steadily increased each year,” says Donica. “We served more than 3,100 clients in 2014.”

In addition to medical staff members affiliated with Washington University, the clinic also partners with community-based organizations to provide many services under one roof. For example, The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse supplies a full-time substance abuse counselor at The SPOT.

The clinic offers shower and laundry facilities and a recreational space where youth can watch TV, surf the Internet, grab a snack or participate in counselor-led activities.

Dr. Plax says the “safe drop-in space” is key to The SPOT’s success. “Youth can come check us out, see what the place is like, and engage in any of the other services we offer,” she says. “Meeting The SPOT staff helps them overcome the stigma of seeking help.”

Learn more about The SPOT at