Health Forward Foundation

Area Medical Leaders Create Sustainability Plan to Keep Safety-Net Clinics Operating

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Having concluded that area safety-net clinics are at a point where “demand for services far exceeds their budgetary ability to provide care,” leaders from a diverse group of medical providers have laid out a joint plan for the clinics’ long-term sustainability.

Each of the safety-net organizations has a “kind of a unique flavor to it,” said Dr. Bridget McCandless, medical director of the Shared Care Free Clinic of Jackson County and co-chair of the task force that developed the plan. “The one thing we have in common is that we all serve poor people.”

The Jackson County clinic addresses chronic care, McCandless said, while other sites focus on services such as same-day appointments for patients or meeting the needs of Hispanics.

The plan allowed the nonprofit executives to “speak as a unified voice about our needs, our accomplishments, and our challenges,” said task force co-chair Amy Falk, executive director of Caritas Clinics Inc., which has sites in Kansas City, Kan., and Leavenworth. “As we are being confronted with new initiatives and a changing health care world and environment, it’s very important that clinics have core support and strong foundations.”

The next step, Falk said, is for clinic officials to begin using the plan to make their case to policy makers and funders.

The task force boiled down the joint needs into four areas: Workforce capacity, information and data systems, organizational capacity and managing the impacts of the Affordable Care Act.
More specifically, the clinics need enough money to:

  • Recruit and retain workers who can handle complex cases, which might include the need for interpreters or social workers, while respecting the cultural differences they might encounter
  • Install electronic medical record systems, which in the short-term could reduce staff productivity and decrease revenue by reducing the number of patients they can see. “It is vitally important that charitable foundations and other financial supporters recognize and address these additional funding issues,” according to the task force report.
  • Expand and reconfigure office space to handle necessities such as information technology and satellite offices and maintain funding for core services, which now include patient education to combat chronic diseases.
  • Serve the potential wave of newly eligible Medicaid patients. If Missouri and Kansas lawmakers choose to expand the program as set out in the Affordable Care Act, there could be more than 400,000 new beneficiaries between the two states, about 130,000 in Kansas and about 270,000 in Missouri.

McCandless said she would be pleased if the plan demonstrated to current funders the value of the benefits derived from their dollars and showed the broader community that safety-net clinics were doing a good job serving special populations.

She said she also hoped the plan would get “legislators and policymakers to recognize that this is a critical infrastructure investment – that having a healthy and well workforce is very important to the general economy.”

Falk said the roughly year long planning effort by the task force has already paid dividends: Individual members have used data compiled for the report in funding proposals.

Task force members said they also hope to use the document as they seek new philanthropic or government funding.

The Greater Kansas City Community Foundation houses more than 3,100 charitable funds and manages more than $1.1 billion.

The foundation’s former chief executive, Laura Wells McKnight, and her successor Debbie Wilkerson, both said the safety-net clinics were smart to craft a unified message for funders.

“I do think funders appreciate it when nonprofits operating in the same sector come together to create efficiencies and effectiveness,” said McKnight, an author and corporate consultant.

Wilkerson said competition for scarce resources could be counterproductive in the nonprofit sector.

“Collaboration just becomes very important,” she said.

The Health Forward Foundation is proud to partner with the Kansas Health Institute news service to provide weekly health stories about health and policy issues impacting the greater Kansas City region. This News Service is an editorially independent program of the Kansas Health Institute and the Health Forward Foundation and is committed to objective coverage of health issues.

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