Health clinics serve growing needs of Kansans

Approximately 1 in 6 Kansans ages 18-64 lack health care coverage.

And when serious illness or injury occurs, being uninsured can be overwhelming and financially devastating – even for working Kansans. Many delay seeking care to avoid costs, which can make health issues more complex. This usually means treatment is more expensive and outcomes are worse. Some may rely on costly hospital emergency departments for care because they don’t have a medical home.

“The Kansas primary care safety net clinics are a cost-effective alternative to use instead of expensive health care services, including the emergency room,” said Denise Cyzman, executive director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved (KAMU). “We estimate that a clinic could serve four patients for one year for less than what it costs for one patient to receive care during one visit to an emergency room ($1,423),” Cyzman said.

KAMU supports and strengthens its 49 member organizations through advocacy, education and communication. The members represent 42 primary care clinics operating in 100 locations in Kansas. These clinics offer medical, dental and behavioral health care, and make up the largest primary care system serving Kansas’ most underserved communities, families and individuals.

The Kansas Health Foundation has supported KAMU and its member clinics for more than a decade. Through a variety of initiatives, more than $3 million has been directed to ensure Kansans have greater access to quality health care services.

“Community-based clinics are essential to providing necessary preventive and treatment services to individuals and families across the state,” said Steve Coen, KHF president and CEO. “These facilities and professionals fill a vital gap in our state’s health care services, and we believe the need for these clinics will only grow in the future.”

In 2017, KAMU member clinics served more than 306,000 patients through 822,000 visits, representing a nearly 30 percent increase since 2010, according to KAMU’s quality reporting system.

These clinics offer high quality, accessible and affordable care regardless of where people live, how much they make or if they have insurance.

In 2016, 42 percent of patients KAMU member clinics served were uninsured and 82 percent of patients reporting income had an income under 150 percent of the federal poverty level (or $36,450 per year for a family of four).

Konza Prairie Community Health & Dental Center, a KAMU member with locations in Junction City and Manhattan, continues to see the growing need for comprehensive health care.

In 2017, Konza Prairie had 5,139 medical patients with 12,571 visits, 6,310 dental patients with 16,320 visits and 403 behavioral health patients with 1,651 visits. Last year, both clinics served more medical, dental and behavioral health patients than the year prior.

Lee Wolf, Konza Prairie CEO, said as more people receive health services from the Federally Qualified Health Center, he’s had to hire more staff. Konza Prairie has twice as many medical providers as when he began working at the clinic 13 years ago, along with a large comprehensive dental program, multiple full-time behavioral health staff, an in-house pharmacy, x-ray and expanded lab services.

“I am excited about the growth Konza has seen and the increased access we have been able to provide for all of the people in the Flint Hills and beyond,” Wolf said.

Clinic health outcome reports also show patients health is improving – blood pressures are more controlled, A1cs are lower, BMI is down, and patients are coming in for routine health care and preventative services.

Konza Prairie, like most KAMU clinics, serves both insured and uninsured patients.

“The mix of patients coming to Konza helps Konza’s financial stability and allows us to provide even more services and offer more discounts to the uninsured, underinsured, low-income and no-income patients who qualify,” Wolf said.

Audrey Burke stumbled upon Konza Prairie’s Junction City location a year ago when she was looking for someone to care for her uninsured husband, Ian, who has a genetic disease that causes his teeth and gums to deteriorate.

During his entire adult life, the now 33-year-old would experience excruciating pain and dental cysts that required draining 20 times a day. He could hardly eat and was gravely underweight.

Instead of being turned away for lack of insurance and a complex health issue, the clinic staff were welcoming, experienced and comforting. The couple paid based on a sliding fee that was affordable for them.

Dr. Timothy Pivonka, dental director, pulled all but six teeth and fitted Ian for upper and lower dentures. Now that they’re in place, Ian has gained 50 pounds and feels better than he has in years.

“It changed his life for sure. I’ve never seen him smile. He didn’t know how to smile at first, but now he smiles, and he isn’t ashamed of his teeth,” Audrey said. “It’s probably one of the best doctor’s offices I’ve ever been to, and I’ve worked as a nurse for 18 years.”

The experienced dental staff can perform this kind of care, along with many other comprehensive dental services, Wolf said. This service, combined with the medical and behavioral health services, allows Konza Prairie to provide a quality medical home for many Kansans in the area.

“We are continually looking for ways to grow and add more services, so our patients do not have to be referred out for additional health care services,” Wolf said. “The patients that we serve are becoming healthier, getting back to work, staying out of the hospital and learning what it takes to become and stay healthy.”

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