Health Forward Foundation

A Johnson County Clinic Must Increase Funding or Cut Services

The Health Partnership Clinic is at one of the most critical junctures of its two decades providing safety-net care in Johnson County.

If the clinic can’t diversify its funding stream, it might have to scale back services, said Chief Executive Jason Wesco. The center last year had about 14,800 patient visits, serving about 4,300 people.

Becoming a federally qualified health center, or FQHC, through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service is a key part of the clinic’s diversification strategy. It failed to make the cut in August, but clinic officials said they hope to hear by May if it made it in this funding round.

Approval would bring new yearly government funding of about $650,000, Wesco said, which would boost the clinic’s annual budget by about 50 percent. He estimated the clinic would be able to double the number of patients it serves -if it gains federal designation- largely by adding Miami County to its service area.

In addition, the designation would bring favorable Medicaid reimbursements – designed to cover the comprehensive services a federally qualified center is required to provide – and no-cost malpractice coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The center plans to begin serving Medicaid patients for the first time next month.

The clinic would become the 16th FQHC in the state, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and the second such center (after Swope Health Services) to serve the Kansas side of the metropolitan area.

Completing the application to become a federally qualified health center was no small task, said board chairman Kathy Howell, who is chief executive officer of Saint Luke’s South in Overland Park. The decision to pursue the designation was the culmination of a strategic planning process that came after passage of the Affordable Care Act and prodding from the clinic’s institutional donors, she said.

With health reform, Howell said, the board realized that roughly 90 percent of its clientele would be eligible for the expanded Medicaid program through the Affordable Care Act or for subsidies to purchase private coverage through a health insurance exchange.

Donors were pressing the clinic for a long-term plan as the funders faced financial pressures due to the recession.

Their message, Howell said, was, “You know, we love what you do, you do good work, there is a need, but you and your board have to really look at sustainability options.”

If the federal designation does not come through this time, Howell said, there would be more soul searching among board members about the clinic’s future shape.

Those considerations likely would include doing some fundraising and also possibly pursuing status as a “look alike” FQHC, which would not include grant money but would provide the favorable Medicaid reimbursements.

“If we don’t get funding this cycle,” Howell said, “what we will be assessing is, will we ever get funded, or is it we just have to wait a little longer?”

During the planning process, the board also faced a staff transition. Wesco came on in January when the previous top administrator left the area.

It was during that transition that the Health Partnership Clinic learned it had earned recognition as a “patient-centered medical home” through the nonprofit National Committee for Quality Assurance.

Officials said gaining that recognition was a rigorous, three-year process that included proving the clinic had systems to track client referrals and follow-ups.

Wesco said the process helped the clinic fine-tune its basic operating principle of meeting the specialized needs of low-income and uninsured patients.

For example, the clinic is talking with the Johnson County Mental Health Center about better integrating primary care with mental health services.

Maureen Womack, executive director of the mental health center, is new herself, starting in her position about the same time Wesco started at the clinic.

She said she liked the idea under discussion of having mental health staff available at the clinic, and vice versa.

“We are able to treat the person as a whole,” Womack said. “It’s kind of one-stop shopping for people with mental illness.”

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