Finding your ‘why’ in a pandemic

Partnerships make Johnson County testing event a success

This is just a small group of the entire cadre of volunteers. Our volunteers included staff from Mercy and Truth Medical Missions Advent Health, Kansas House Representative Susan Ruiz, members of the Shawnee Police, and Shawnee Mission School District teachers.

Day in and day out, Mercy and Truth Medical Missions serves the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick. Our patients include the essential workers who have continued to serve the community at their own personal risk during this pandemic.

When COVID-19 emerged in our region, our patients asked how they could get tested for the virus even though they couldn’t pay for it. We believe that whether you have medical insurance or are uninsured, you should be able to get a COVID-19 test.

So we set about organizing partnerships to bring free testing to Johnson and Wyandotte counties where we have safety net clinics. In June we hosted a free testing event in Wyandotte County and planned an August event for Johnson County.

Since most of our patients work, and don’t have paid time off to get a COVID test, Mercy and Truth knew the free testing event must fall on a Saturday.

Mercy and Truth Medical Missions hosted a contactless COVID-19 testing event on Aug. 29, 2020 in Johnson County.

Testing was conducted in a large parking lot close to Mercy and Truth that will soon be part of a major renovation to bring green space, walking trails, and additional housing to the area. That large space allowed for social distancing, drive-through testing, and six testing stations operating at the same time.

We administered 331 tests over a four-hour period.    

Even though it was rainy, we had cars lining up two hours before the testing actually commenced. 

Since Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) caseloads have increased 26.4 percent from June 2019 to June 2020, we also had free food boxes to give away.  

Mercy and Truth worked with many partners that helped make this testing event a success:  

  • Kansas Department of Health and Environment brought 750 testing kits to the test site, stayed until the event was over, and brought the tests back to the state lab for a quick turnaround. The head of the laboratory also visited the site to get feedback from the frontline volunteers.  
  • Advent Health Systems provided 400 produce boxes and bags of cleaning supplies that were given out at the drive-through testing. Advent Health also had school-specific logoed face masks available for any children who took part in the testing  
  • The City of Shawnee assisted with traffic flow and police officers also partnered with nonprofit Giving the Basics to distribute personal hygiene items.  
  • The Kansas National Guard brought 11 medics to conduct the testing at each one of the swabbing locations. (Several of these members had been deployed with the head of KDHE, Dr. Lee Norman, on overseas assignments. Dr. Norman is still part of the Kansas National Guard.)  

In addition to the drive-through event, we used our clinic to host a satellite testing site dedicated exclusively for Shawnee Mission School District teachers that wanted to be tested. More than 50 teachers received the COVID-19 test.  

Volunteers: N Myron Gunsalus Jr, director of Kansas Health and Environmental Laboratories, MTMM medical director Dr. LeAnn Detar, and Dr. Debbie Gammer

Volunteers assisting with paperwork spoke English and Spanish so we could serve all participants equally and in their first language. 

We want to thank all the volunteers who helped us coordinate a smooth event. We were gratified and thrilled with our wonderful volunteers, who ranged from Shawnee City Council members to teachers to the head of the KDHE testing lab, to a state representative.

Although the number of participants tested is impressive and the depth and breadth of the partnerships helped to make a successful event, it always comes down to that one encounter.  

For me, that happened when a man came through to be tested, and offered to take away the pallets that had the food boxes stored on them. What a blessing as that was one detail we had not thought about!  

“I’m glad I could give back to Mercy and Truth,” he said.  “You didn’t know this, but my sister comes to your clinic, and if it wasn’t for your clinic, I don’t think she’d be alive.”  

During these trying times, we all need a reminder of why we’re doing what we’re doing, whether it be testing, raising money to help more people receive medical care, or even removing wood pallets, let’s all take a moment and remember our “why.” 


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Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006