Kerin Smith, Guild Founder

No one has been engaged in serving GraceMed longer than Kerin Smith and her husband, Jim. She worked as a nurse from 1992 to 1995, then served on the Board of Directors and finally founded the GraceMed Guild — a group of volunteers for GraceMed— where she continues to serve today.

How and when did you first got involved with GraceMed?

Sandra Parker Lyon
Former Executive Director Sandra Parker Lyon

The first one I would mention was Sandra Parker Lyon, who was our executive director at the time. She had been with the clinic for a long time, ever since they had first established it, I think. She stayed with us through the transition to United Methodist Health Clinic. She made a big contribution to the growth of the clinic.

Another person was Dr. Jana Nisly who was working there when I came. She was our medical director, and she just had a nice manner with the patients and the families and really a good spirit to work with people. We were getting a lot of Hispanic families in at that time and Dr. Nisly spoke Spanish. All of us learned a little bit of it. She went on to be a missionary in El Salvador where she still lives.

What were some of the early challenges you faced and how did you deal with them?
The rise of the HIV epidemic triggered OSHA to set up safety standards in the workplace. So we tried to get those standards set up for the clinic as well. When I first went to work, someone handed me a card file and told me these are your policies and procedures for the clinic. What was in it were some cards that told me where to order supplies. I didn’t think that was really what we needed, so during the time that I was there, I wrote the policies and procedures for the clinic, and we got our OSHA standards set up.

Also, more people were coming to us because they couldn’t get health insurance. We were just trying to keep up with the need. At one point, they closed the practice (to new patients) because there were more people that were needing to be seen than we could handle.

There was also a time when we struggled with finances, and we just had to take steps to be able to survive. We tried to find ways we could raise some money. Later when we brought Dave Sanford in, he really had the gift of finding resources and putting them to work. He really has a skill set for raising funds and writing grants. He has a heart for it and a way of seeing it that has been a blessing for GraceMed.

GraceMed on Mosley
GraceMed’s home in the 90s at 1611 N. Mosley

When I was doing outreach to help with some funding, I would visit churches in small towns around Wichita and a lot of those people didn’t have healthcare either. And I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we could have little clinics in some of these surrounding towns. They opened that recent one in Clearwater that’s kind of what I had in mind. So, I was real happy to see that come to fruition.

I understand you also had to come up with a way to get your patients the medications they needed.
We had a pharmacy of sorts (in the early 90s), and we just received sample medications from various companies and doctors’ offices that they weren’t able to use. Our patients couldn’t afford to buy medications and that was becoming more of a problem as the price continued to go up.

Karlen Jones
Former Executive Director Karlen Jones

Then the drug companies came out with this idea that they don’t want anybody to do without medications because they can’t afford them. So they said, if patients will send us some kind of documentation that they can’t afford the drug the doctor prescribed for them, then the company would send them a supply of the drug.

We had this lady who had rheumatoid arthritis, and she needed a particular drug we didn’t have and she couldn’t afford to buy. There was no way we could get it for her through samples. So I called the company, and they sent me a form. I filled it out, had her sign it and sent it in with a prescription. Then we would just send another every 30 days for refills.

Over a period of time, we got a lot of people on what was then called the Indigent Drug Program. We got thousands and thousands of dollars worth of medications for a lot of people that really would not have been able to get them otherwise.

Would you say you were serving the same underserved patients GraceMed still serves today?

The patients we saw at the time when I first began to work there were a lot different than what GraceMed sees now. I’m sure they still see some of those same patients, but for one thing, we provided quite a bit of homeless care. I know that GraceMed does that now through Open Door. But we had a time of day dedicated to seeing homeless people. So we probably treated more people that were living in poverty back then. Today health insurance is harder to get than it was in years past. So although GraceMed still sees a lot of low-income patients, we also see more people that are employed but just don’t have insurance.

When I was doing outreach to help with some funding, I would visit churches in small towns around Wichita and a lot of those people didn’t have healthcare either. And I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we could have little clinics in some of these surrounding towns. They opened that recent one in Clearwater that’s kind of what I had in mind. So, I was real happy to see that come to fruition.

Inside GraceMed’s former Mosley St. Clinic
Inside GraceMed’s former Mosley St. Clinic

Were there some noteworthy milestones that stand out?
During the time I was there, we decided to apply for this particular status with the federal government to become a federally qualified health center look-alike. GraceMed now is federally qualified health clinic, which means we are able to get funding from the federal government. But at the time, that wasn’t the case. The look-alikes didn’t qualify for funding. Instead of getting a fee for service, we received cost-based reimbursement, which did make a big difference. We also had to become a separate corporation. So we incorporated as United Methodist Health Clinic.

At one point, we had a surgeon who worked with us half a day every two weeks. We did little surgeries, one I particularly remember. This boy came in with a cyst under his tongue. He couldn’t even get his mouth shut. We went in and drained the cyst so he was more comfortable. That’s the kind of thing we did. Just minor things. But they were major to people who had them.

Healthy Family Clinic
First satellite location of clinic that would later become the Healthy Family Clinic

Who are some of the people you remember who played an important role in our history?
The first one I would mention was Sandra Parker Lyon, who was our executive director at the time. She had been with the clinic for a long time, ever since they had first established it, I think. She stayed with us through the transition to United Methodist Health Clinic. She made a big contribution to the growth of the clinic.

Another person was Dr. Jana Nisly who was working there when I came. She was our medical director, and she just had a nice manner with the patients and the families and really a good spirit to work with people. We were getting a lot of Hispanic families in at that time and Dr. Nisly spoke Spanish. All of us learned a little bit of it. She went on to be a missionary in El Salvador where she still lives.

What’s your perspective on all the changes that have happened at GraceMed?

Dr. Robb White
Dr. Robb White treats a couple of young patients

It’s really hard to believe that GraceMed is where it is now. We were working out of this little clinic down on Mosley St., and the first (new) one that we took on was the Healthy Children’s Clinic at Lincoln School. Then they opened one out at Evergreen that’s now located at Cloud Elementary. The school-based clinic idea has been a real good one for GraceMed.

When I was doing outreach to help with some funding, I would visit churches in small towns around Wichita and a lot of those people didn’t have healthcare either. And I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we could have little clinics in some of these surrounding towns. They opened that recent one in Clearwater that’s kind of what I had in mind. So, I was real happy to see that come to fruition.

Eventually you transitioned into a different role entirely at GraceMed. How did the volunteer Guild get started?
I was kind of just thinking about ways we could increase things like funding, advocacy and visibility for the clinic because so many people didn’t even know about us. And all of a sudden it came to me that we could have an auxiliary organization. I had just retired from nursing, so I called up all my friends who are retired nurses and asked if they would like to help me do this. We had our first meeting down at College Hill United Methodist Church in the fall of 2002. One of the first things we did was have a Christmas party for the staff. I think that was the very first the staff would have known anything about us.

Rosalyn Welch, PA
Rosalyn Welch, PA, with a patient

Another interesting thing we got involved in was this national pilot project to identify undiagnosed diabetics. We helped to set up little stations at various places in grocery stores and offered free blood testing. We did identify a number of people who had really high blood sugars that had no idea they were diabetic. Later on, the government decided to reimburse us for this work, and the Guild ended up gaining $19,000 for the clinics.

Then we had two chili suppers partly as fundraisers and partly because we just wanted to get more visibility for the clinic. Both were held at East Heights United Methodist Church a year apart and each one made several thousand dollars. They were so much fun for everybody.

The next year we decided this was too much work for a bunch of retired women. So we started the “virtual” chili supper, and we’ve done that now for fourteen years. That’s a lot less work and makes a good bit more money for us too. We used it to buy an optometry machine one year. Last year, part of the money went for vouchers for people that just couldn’t afford the copay for their care.

What have your experiences with GraceMed taught you?

Mai Nguyen, APRN
Mai Nguyen, APRN, with a patient

The need for low cost healthcare has continued to grow. Who would have expected that the cost of health insurance was going to be the better part of people’s paychecks? Personally, I’ve learned a lot about financing of healthcare and the technology associated with it. I was an OB nurse, primarily. At GraceMed, I began to get a wide range of experience with the things that people are dealing with and the medications they use. I never had anything to do with the business side of healthcare before. So that’s all been a real learning experience as I’ve worked on the Board of Directors.

The important thing that we never can lose sight of is our goal to provide quality healthcare for as many people as we possibly can, so they can continue to be productive. Being well is such a huge part of our self concept and our ability to provide for ourselves and our families.

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