When COVID-19 hit Kansas, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) located throughout the state experienced dwindling patient visits, resulting in large decreases in cash flow. These clinics, which provide care to all Kansans regardless of their ability to pay, saw fewer patients coming in for routine wellness checks, behavioral health care, follow-up care, chronic disease management and dental care.
At the same time, the FQHCs were responding to emergent care needs related to the pandemic – and, on top of this, like every medical provider, dealing with high demand of costly personal protective equipment (PPE) and increased cleaning costs to reduce spread of infection.
Despite supply chain shortages of PPE and coronavirus testing materials, these Kansas health centers were screening, testing, diagnosing and caring for patients with COVID-19. And, in many cases, providing care to patients most at-risk due to health disparities related to race, ethnicity, lower socio-economic status and chronic disease.
To help ensure these entities remain viable beyond the pandemic, the Kansas Health Foundation (KHF) provided $2.8 million to 19 FQHCs in Kansas. Funding was based primarily on the size and nature of population served, and pandemic factors specific to the communities served. The grants helped clinics maintain operations with COVID-19 response, and also to change delivery of care models to meet patients’ needs.
“At the Kansas Health Foundation, we believe safety net clinics provide vitally critical access to care for vulnerable Kansas populations,” said Reggie Robinson, KHF president and CEO. “We felt compelled to support these facilities as they fill a critical gap in our state’s health care services infrastructure – especially during trying times like these.”
Denise Cyzman, CEO of the Community Care Network of Kansas, said primary care, mental health, and substance use disorder visits were reduced by more than 50 percent at the FQHCs. Dental visits were reduced by more than 90 percent. The Community Care Network of Kansas helps grow and strengthen community care clinics and availability of resources, with a common goal of providing high-quality health care that is accessible to all Kansans.
“Having the Kansas Health Foundation step up with $2.8 million in grants for the community health centers was timely – and displayed their strong commitment to the health of Kansans and Kansas health care providers,” Cyzman said.
Although patients were not visiting the FQHC clinics for ongoing primary, dental and behavioral health care services during that stage of the pandemic, the need for care did not subside. Clinics used the grants to shift from in-person visits to telehealth services.
All Kansas community health centers now provide telemedicine, and nine out of ten provide tele-behavioral health services for patients needing mental health or substance use assistance. The funding also helped with operational support to help keep clinic doors open, purchase telemedicine equipment and provide COVID-19 testing and education.
In northwest Kansas, Hoxie Medical Clinic saw a 60 percent decrease in patient visits during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, as those who were not acutely ill delayed care or canceled appointments altogether.
“The KHF funds will allow us to continue to operate at our current capacity, allow for our patients to continue to get the high-quality health care that they have come to expect from the providers and staff at the Hoxie Medical Clinic, as well as to give us a cushion that allows our financial status to remain solvent while we navigate the short- and long-term impacts that the COVID-19 epidemic will have on our industry and the community that we serve,” said Kevin Johnson, chief operations officer at Hoxie Medical Clinic.
Due to COVID-19, the clinic has added telehealth services to increase access to care, and now screens patients and staff for COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival. And, to minimize spread of infection, it has created separate areas for acutely ill patients and patients with routine or follow-up appointments.
Like Hoxie Medical Clinic, HealthCore Clinic, located in Wichita, implemented a screening process and telemedicine services. It also created a “car-side respiratory clinic” to care for patients experiencing symptoms of the common cold, flu, seasonal allergies and COVID-19 – to help reduce the risk of exposure to healthy patients and staff. The clinic also conducted a 12-day COVID-19 mobile testing site in northeast Wichita, to provide outreach to vulnerable populations.
“During the month of May, HealthCore Clinic utilized our integrated mobile medical clinic to provide drive-thru and walk-up COVID-19 testing with no cost to the patient, no need for symptoms, and regardless of insurance status,” said Teresa Lovelady, CEO of HealthCore Clinic. “Through this initiative (made possible in part with KHF funding), we tested 1,728 people with a positive test rate of 2.14 percent. This was a unique and extremely impactful opportunity to serve our community that was disproportionately being affected by the virus.”
Before launching its mobile medical clinic, staff used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Sedgwick County that indicated the county’s African-American population was three times more likely to become infected with COVID-19 and eight times more likely to die from it. HealthCore Clinic created a public outreach initiative to increase awareness of COVID-19 testing and resources, which helped it reach a larger audience for testing.
KHF funding was also used to purchase critical PPE for staff, distribute thousands of COVID-19 fact sheets from the CDC and offer telehealth services to those experiencing behavioral health challenges.
“Because of the funding provided by Kansas Health Foundation, HealthCore is in a better position to respond to COVID-19,” Lovelady said. “As the state reopens, HealthCore will continue to be responsive to the heath needs of the community.”
Although COVID-19 has changed the way care is delivered at the FQHCs, their commitment to provide high-quality primary, behavioral and dental care will not change.
“Like always, the clinics are committed to erase boundaries and barriers to care, to ensure every Kansan has access to high-quality care and be as healthy as they can be,” Cyzman said. “This will mean healthier, stronger communities in which people have access to boundless health.”
For a full list of FQHC grant recipients, please read the initial news release about KHF’s board approving $5.3 million for COVID-19 response and recovery.
Photo is at GraceMed Clinic. Photo used courtesy of the Community Care Network of Kansas.
Every month, our electronic newsletter, Health Happenings, features a story about a focus area, grant, partnership or program involving the Foundation.