When the COVID-19 pandemic swept through Kansas City, it was all hands on deck at KC CARE Health Center, one of the area’s few charitable health centers. Never in the organization’s nearly 50 years had physicians and staff seen anything like coronavirus culture. They had two goals: keep their doors open and to ensure providing quality, affordable, healthcare to anyone regardless of their ability to pay or their insurance status.
And they did so by rallying the troops—and learning to spin on a dime.
“In response to COVID-19, KC CARE staff and care providers mobilized quickly to pivot toward telehealth given the need for many patients to follow social distancing guidelines and avoid exposure to a virus with an already compromised immune system,” says Wil Franklin, M.S., L.P.C., President and CEO at KC CARE. “We went from doing about 2% of our overall volume via telehealth to doing 40% of our volume via telehealth in just two weeks. Our teams felt it was a critical safety measure for everyone involved and worked tirelessly to change workflows, address technology challenges, and educate both clinicians and patients on how to use the technology, demonstrating incredible agility and versatility.”
But it wasn’t just the healthcare professionals that stepped up to the plate, so did patients. “Our local residents did a great job of social distancing and converting their medical appointments to telehealth visits,” says Craig Dietz, DO, MPH, FACOI, AAHIVS, Chief Medical Officer at KC CARE. “However, many of the patients exhibited high levels of anxiety, depression, and PTSD over this epidemic. Thankfully we were able to maintain our behavioral health services via video and getting patients treatment they need most during this time. As people lose their jobs, their incomes and health insurance, the mental health needs of our community are going to skyrocket.”
With a motto of safety first, KC CARE took a number of steps early on, including “implementing screenings at all entrances, limiting visitors, and implementing work-from-home best practices for our workers that don’t interact with patients,” mentions Dietz. By pulling together, the organization was able to keep our mission-critical services like
primary care, HIV treatment and prevention, behavioral health, prenatal care, and pediatrics going by consolidating two of our locations and did a rapid ramp up of telehealth.” Even more impressive? They were able to revamp and expedite patient care in under ten days of the pandemic outbreak. “This is something we will continue to offer our patients in all of our locations to reduce crowding and wait times, utilizing text messaging for our pharmacy and going virtual for all business and planning meetings.”
COVID-19 Concerns Continued To Mount
Due to the sheer number of immunocompromised residents, the organization converted a parking garage into a screening and testing center for COVID-19. “Medical personnel are stationed there with treatment tents to provide COVID-19 Screenings and basic care for people with symptoms,” says Dietz.
The staff—”steel-tough healthcare heroes”, as Dietz calls them—have been working everyday with at-risk patients and really stepping in with helpful suggestions and solutions to do more testing at each site. “Our frontline staff remains inspired by the patients and local community who have been bringing gifts of food, masks, and general support.”
Nationally Known Care and a New Pediatric Facility
While the health center is nationally known for care in the area of HIV treatment, and prevention, they serve almost 18,000 patients across multiple service lines—everything from dental to pediatrics and beyond. “We also just opened a brand new, amazing, integrated, pediatric care site in the basement of the old Wonder Bread factory at Troost and 31st. This site has a full suite of services that includes pediatric medical care, dental, and behavioral health,” says Franklin.
As it has been for decades now, word on the street is that KC CARE is known as the place that will help you out when other healthcare entities can’t or won’t. Their doors are open to all and they’re more than willing to meet people wherever they are in their journey.
Franklin is quick to point out that given their history treating and preventing HIV, a highly stigmatized disease, KC CARE is “one of the ‘best known, unknown’ places to get care in the region. We treat the whole person and are a one-stop shop for all your healthcare needs. Sometimes people think they can’t come to us if they are insured; however, that actually helps us subsidize the care for others who may be unemployed or uninsured.”
“We Are Open!”
As the virus got a toehold in the metro, residents were worried KC CARE might close up shop for the duration. Instead, the organization became even more committed to patient care. “We are open! All of our services will be open, even if limited times, over the next 14 days,” proclaims Dietz. “I want people to know this is a safe and loving environment for not just the LGBT community but all families and children that have health care needs.”
Franklin agrees wholeheartedly—especially in these tumultuous times. “We want people to know we are here to serve everyone and that our goal is to be a provider of choice for everyone. We also want people to know our quality is second to none and that we are a key resource and component of recovery from COVID-19. With so many having lost jobs and health insurance, we are here to meet their needs and find their way forward without losing access to quality care.”