KC CARE Health Center continues to serve the community after nearly 50 years

Triage Nurses check anyone entering the KC CARE Health Center on Broadway Boulevard in Midtown Kansas City. “Before the patient can enter the facility, we ask a series of questions as to whether they’ve displayed symptoms of the Coronavirus or come in contact with anyone who has,” Monika Koirala said. If patients don’t exhibit symptoms, they are given a colored sticker to put on their shirt. If patients do have symptoms, they are whisked downstairs to one of three secure examining areas where they are tested further for the virus. “That’s our first line of defense,” Koirala noted. / photo by MICHAEL BUSHNELL

Elizabeth Orosco
Managing Editor

As COVID-19 sweeps across the globe, affecting millions of people, nurses and doctors stand on the front lines ready to serve.

Facing multiple challenges of manpower, proper and adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and keeping themselves and their families safe as they continue to work to heal the community, healthcare workers have been heroes.

In the Northeast, KC CARE Health Center at 4601 Independence Avenue has been serving our community since 2017.

KC CARE Health Center originally started in Kansas City as the Westport Free Health Clinic that opened in the lobby of the Alcazar Hotel in 1971, run by volunteers and providing free medical services to those in need.

In the late ‘80s, the clinic moved to the east side of Kansas City and changed its name to the Kansas City Free Health Clinic.

In the mid to late ‘90s, the clinic launched behavioral health services, expanded to 39th and Main, and became the lead agency in Kansas City responsible for building a system of HIV services in the region.

The clinic continued to add more services, expand, and today, the Kansas City Free Health Clinic is the KC CARE Health Center, which stands for Care, Access, Research, and Education for all.

“We have an emphasis of providing quality care for anyone who walks through our doors, regardless of ability to pay,” said Dr. Kelsey Ryan, a women’s health physician at KC CARE Health Center. “If a patient walks through our door and they are uninsured, we have dedicated workers at our clinic who can sign them up for Medicaid if they are eligible.”

Their list of services include primary care, women’s health, testing and screening, sexual health, dental care, behavioral health, HIV services, pharmacy, and community services.

During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, KC CARE Health Center has included offering Telehealth, patient care services that are offered via phone, tablet, or computer that virtually connects patients to healthcare providers.

Telehealth is available to new and existing patients and serves individuals who are insured, underinsured, or uninsured.

Telehealth offers a way for patients to still be able to see and talk with a doctor while complying with social distancing and not compromising their health.

“In two weeks, we have moved almost 40 percent of our business to Telehealth visits,” said KC CARE Health Center CEO Wil Franklin. “People are scared, too. They are worried. We have a lot of elderly patients who have high blood pressure or cardiac disease and they’re nervous about coming into the health center. We have scaled up Telehealth to be able to meet some of that need.”

Telehealth uses HIPAA-compliant technology (to protect patient privacy) on smartphones, tablets, or computers and visits can also adapt to landline telephones if needed.

Franklin said KC CARE Health Center is working on providing the best service possible with Telehealth as the number of new patients increase.

“We’ve got huge spikes in unemployment right now, so the number of patients we serve who are going to be uninsured are going to increase dramatically,” he said. “We are going to have to scale up services in the coming months because those individuals who are newly unemployed are probably not going to be able to go where they have gone in the past to get care, with no insurance.”

While Telehealth is helping many people who do not want to leave their homes during the COVID19 pandemic, Franklin said it is also increasing access that many individuals would otherwise not have.

“Being a community health center, a lot of our patients have challenges with transportation, and sometimes, coming for four visits even in a 12-month time span is really difficult,” he said. “Sometimes people are choosing to go to the doctors office over other important needs. Having this Telehealth option would be a long-term gain in terms of access.”

Overall, Blair Thedinger, KC CARE Health Center associate medical director, said KC CARE Health Center is working to provide quality service in the best way possible in the midst of stay-at-home orders.

“If we can try to assist in the general social distancing orders, to slow the spread of the virus by reducing—because we can’t eliminate in person visits, but we can reduce them—then I think that’s very much worthwhile,” he said. “KC CARE is open for business and we want to serve our patient base. We want to make sure they get what they need in terms of their medical care and one new option for doing that is Telehealth and we are going to use it as much as we can, wherever it’s appropriate.”

To schedule a Telehealth visit, call 816-753-5144. To learn more about Telehealth, visit kccare.org/telehealth.

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