The Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas is the safety net in southeast Kansas – an all-rural area covering 5,250 square miles with incomes averaging 25% below the state overall.
When asked how safety net health care services in Allen County, KS, improved in 2018, Krista Postai, CEO of the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas (CHC/SEK), ticks off a list of accomplishments that add up to substantial investments in the health of this rural region’s residents.
To start, in 2018 CHC/SEK opened a new 14,000 square foot medical, dental and behavioral health clinic in Iola, funded through a USDA Community Facilities Loan program. Designed to reflect patient-centered medical home practices, the clinic more than doubled its former space, providing for a full-service 340B pharmacy, radiology and laboratory, expanded dental clinic, and dedicated space for behavioral health counseling and outpatient addiction treatment.
Postai says the new facility has allowed CHC/SEK to embrace its vision of transforming health care by addressing and removing barriers. The Iola clinic employs 33 staff members, including two physicians, two Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, two dentists, four dental hygienists, two pharmacists and a full-time psychiatrist, one of the few in southeast Kansas. CHC/SEK is a National Committee on Quality-recognized Patient Centered Medical Home with a Level 3 designation, the highest level a clinic can achieve.
Over the last 12 months, CHC/SEK has provided care for more than 7,700 patients through nearly 23,000 patient visits, a 9.9 percent growth in patients and 12.5 percent increase in encounters. Of the 7,700 patients, about 5,300 live below the Federal Poverty Level. Outside of Allen County, the health center draws from neighboring Anderson, Neosho and Woodson counties.
CHC/SEK is one of 27 organizations that received a $50,000 core partner grant that can be used for general operations. The foundation asks grantees to report on their challenges and operational goals. In its application, CHC/SEK set goals for maximizing its service income, integrating quality and outcomes into all aspects of the organization and improving population health. The Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) established a new Director of Quality Enhancement to pursue quality improvements. Acquisition of BridgeIT, a data management tool, has enabled the health center to implement new initiatives that position CHC/SEK to address patients’ needs.
Examples of how these systems support patient care, on “Phone Call Fridays,” CHC/SEK health care staff located at “Mission Control,” the nickname for the FQHC hub’s call center, contact high utilizers of hospital emergency departments to see if there are concerns that could be better addressed in one of the CHC/SEK facilities. With a new “Welcome to Medicare” program, staff contact patients as they approach age 65 to inform them of available health services and schedule appointments.
“Many of our older patients may not have had health coverage for most of their adult lives, so don’t have a good understanding of the health services available to them,” Postai said. “By making a personal contact, we can help get these individuals in for basic screenings and preventive services.”
A Population Health Department was formed to help lead these efforts. Using the available data tools, the department identifies individuals who appear to be “disengaged” from care, without a medical visit in over a year or at all. Postai says their outreach to these individuals is invaluable in making sure that children receive dental screenings and immunizations, and that men and women have cancer screenings and other preventive care.
As one example, many women in Allen County struggled to obtain mammograms. The Population Health staff evaluated all patients overdue for the screening, made contact with them and were able to help more than 150 women complete their mammograms in less than one month.
CHC/SEK also received a $40,000 Strong Safety Net Care Connections grant to assist up to 500 individuals secure health coverage and care, basic aid, transportation and social services.
In talking about the work in Allen County, Postai notes the various partnerships that have leveraged the FQHC’s success: Collaboration with an innovative drug court program in the 31st Judicial District; availability of tele-specialty services to increase access to specialists; school-based health and dental outreach programs in Iola and Humboldt that are reaching hundreds of students; and support from foundations to expand CHC/SEK’s care coordination and patient navigation program.
Postai also highlighted the relationship with Thrive Allen County, another REACH core partner, which has been a catalyst for an array of community initiatives drawing state and federal resources and public support for health.
“Our commitment to patient-centered care has inspired a lot of the innovations we have put in place,” said Postai. “We certainly know the impact that health care can have on individuals, but there is a community impact as well.”
Lisse Regehr, president and CEO of Thrive Allen County, emphasizes the importance of CHC/SEK to the economic health of Allen County. “Health issues that might have become life-threatening or debilitating conditions are more easily treated because our community has access to care that they could not afford prior to the establishment of the CHC in Iola,” Regehr said. “People don’t have to risk their financial health to take care of their physical and mental health – and that’s good for workers, families and our entire community.”