Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center Set to Begin Providing Care in New Downtown Facility

One of Kansas City’s leading providers of health care for the poor and uninsured is poised to open a new, expanded facility, only four years after fund raising for the effort began.

“I am amazed at what we – this organization – have been able to accomplish in a very short period of time,” said Hilda Fuentes, chief executive of Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, which is scheduled to open its gleaming, new structure at Eighth Street and Euclid Ave. in northeast Kansas City, Mo. on Jan. 3.

At approximately 68,000 square feet, the $25.1 million building dwarfs the center’s existing building just to the south. That 40-year-old facility, with its leaky roof, loose floor tiles, and cramped quarters, will be demolished to make way for a park honoring the center’s founder and namesake.

Though the capital campaign for the new building began four years ago, the final boost came in October 2010 with an $8.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Construction began in September.

A provider of medical, dental and mental health services, Samuel Rodgers is on track to serve more than 19,000 patients this year at locations throughout Kansas City and surrounding Missouri counties.

Fuentes said the added space in its new, three-story building would allow the center to serve an additional 7,200 patients at the downtown location alone during the next three years.

“We are going to be able to do so much more,” Fuentes said.

Along with additional space for medical exams and dental procedures, the new building will provide more privacy for mental health patients. Physicians will also be housed as teams to better coordinate care as opposed to being grouped by practice area as they are now.

In a nod to the roughly 25 different languages spoken by Rodgers patients, the new building also features animal symbols that direct visitors to the correct location. A walrus, for instance, signals dental services.

Unlike the squat structure that now serves as the downtown facility, natural light will flood the new building.

A pleasant atmosphere is important for more than aesthetics, said Dean Katerndahl, an administrator with the Regional Health Care Initiative, a program of the Mid-America Regional Council in Kansas City, Mo.

Katerndahl said it often could be difficult to get people unfamiliar with the health care system or the English language to seek care.

“By having a facility that is very accommodating for them and welcoming, they are much more likely to seek care when they need it, which is both good for them and also good for the larger community,” he said.

And the center’s additional capacity will be a welcome addition to a regional safety net system that has been stretched thin by the increased needs brought on by the recession, he said.

Sheri Wood is the chief executive of the Kansas City Free Health Clinic. She said she remembered well that clinic’s move 10 years ago to its current location at 3515 Broadway and the accompanying excitement.

Patients expressed awe that the community would provide such a nice facility, “and I’m sure (Rodgers staff) will be hearing a lot of that over the coming weeks,” she said.

Wood also is co-chair of the Safety Net Collaborative, a working group that includes leaders from the safety net providers around the region.

“The building is the face of what we have to give,” Fuentes said, “which is quality patient care.”

But in a staff meeting last week, she cautioned the employees not to let the new, shiny edifice overshadow the important core mission of Samuel Rodgers, “and the things that are meaningful to us and to our patients, which are our values of kindness, integrity, professionalism, and excellence,” she said.

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