As the pandemic rages on, many of us will face each day trying to figure out how to make ends meet. One of the most pressing concerns is health care. When funds are tight, scheduling a diabetes check-up or simple dental cleaning isn’t even on the list. Fortunately, community health centers are here to help take the burden off of choosing food over health, providing quality, cost-saving care.
National Health Center Week is August 9 through 15 this year. It’s a time set aside to recognize the valuable contribution that health clinics in the communities that they serve. Community health centers were on the front-line of America’s health crises long before COVID-19. Communities across Kansas benefit from the services provided by area health clinics like GraceMed, which has been providing services to the Wichita metro area for over forty years and since 2017 in the Topeka metro area. GraceMed also has clinics in McPherson and Clearwater, Kansas.
One of the benefits of community health care centers is the economic stimulus that comes from directly employing people within the communities we serve. Almost 350 people work at GraceMed including health care professionals, support staff, and administration. COVID-19 has placed community health centers in an “essential business’ category along with many other employers in the healthcare industry. It is also true that many of our patients are the “blue-collar” backbone of business productivity. Making healthcare more affordable and accessible to workers who are either uninsured or underinsured decreases sick days and increases productivity.
Community health centers also play a role in containing the rising cost of healthcare. Patients who don’t have insurance avoid getting regular care. They get sicker as a result, often developing chronic conditions that could have been avoided. When they do seek help, they often turn to hospital emergency rooms which are an expensive way to get care that is better handled in a primary medical setting. Hospitals are then forced to absorb much of the cost of caring for these patients, and those costs are then passed on to the insured patients in the form of ever escalating hospital bills. By providing a medical home where uninsured patients can get regular, affordable care, community health centers like GraceMed break this cycle while improving the overall health of these patients.
One of the unique offerings of community health centers is the ability to reach beyond the exam room and solve the underlying problems that contribute to illness. At GraceMed, we look at the social determinants of health like homelessness, substance abuse, literacy, and the need for spiritual guidance if requested. We have access to resources that can help turn around a troubled life and a troubled soul. We provide these services to anyone regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.
GraceMed networks with other community organizations to provide a strong safety net offering services to those who are struggling with life’s most basic needs. Our Community Cares program works tirelessly to help patients facing barriers to receiving medical care and sometimes challenges in daily living. Our Homeless Outreach works collaboratively with homeless shelters, drop-in centers, law enforcement, and veteran health centers to provide care to those without a traditional address. And our Oral Health Outreach program provides on-site dental services to schools, nursing homes, community senior centers, Head Starts, and churches throughout the year.
In Topeka, our Pregnancy Maintenance Initiative has started its second year of helping mothers-to-be. Through this program, expectant moms can find support and assistance with everything from in-person care to assistance in locating affordable housing. In the first seven months of the program, GraceMed helped sixty-six women prepare for the safe delivery of a full-term baby. The early intervention and ongoing support help babies come into the world healthy and avoid costly stays in the NICU.
The disruption brought on by the pandemic will certainly have an impact on the number of people in need of affordable medical, dental, and vision services. Losing a job means losing more than just a paycheck. In 2019 GraceMed had over 108,000 patient visits where the patient did not have traditional health insurance. Of those visits, 37% did not have Medicaid or Medicare. That number will most likely increase as more people find themselves in the gap, not qualifying for Medicaid yet not able to independently purchase insurance. With the help of community donations, we are able to offer medical and dental vouchers to offset the cost of exams for those with the greatest need.
Through good times and bad, community health clinics provide an oasis of care that people can count on. GraceMed is here to provide the peace of mind that comes from knowing that whatever life delivers, the ability to take care of yourself is not out of reach.