Just over 100 miles southwest of Kansas City, there is a county of just over 13,000 residents that has created a model for community health improvement. A county that admitted collectively that it needed to improve health outcomes. A county that was willing to ask for help. A county that rolled up its sleeves (and put on its walking shoes) and built an infrastructure unlike any other county of its size in the state – and perhaps in the country. A county that improved its state County Health Ranking from 94 (of 100) in 2009 to 79 in 2014.
The county? It’s Allen, in the southeast corner of Kansas.
The story? It has a founding not all that long ago when, in 2005, REACH Healthcare Foundation, at the behest of group of community advocates — the Allen County Health Advisory Committee — made an award to the KU Workgroup to complete a comprehensive county health needs assessment. From that needs assessment came the data necessary to catalyze change. A plan was created, a mission, a vision and goals were created all driven by the underlying desire to create and sustain change, to improve the health of the entire community.
From that volunteer effort came Thrive Allen County (Thrive’s Executive Director, David Toland, has blogged here in the past). Thrive has evolved to a staffed community development and health improvement organization that engages in a range of projects from the construction of community trails, to the installation of bike racks, to run/walks to supporting expansion of broadband access. In short, Thrive is thriving.
A key piece of improving health outcomes, of course, is improving health access. Thrive, again, played a key role. One of the principal findings of the community health needs assessment was lack of access to care, especially for those without financial resources. Thrive, in 2006, made contact with my organization, the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas (CHC/SEK) to see how we might work together to expand access to care. After extensive planning and resource development, CHC/SEK was able, in December of 2008, to open a full-time dental clinic, followed in July, 2013 by the establishment of comprehensive medical care.
CHC/SEK now provides care during more than 16,000 visits annually at our Allen County clinic to all individuals, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay, with more 50 percent of patients either uninsured or on Medicaid.
And while CHC/SEK can’t take credit for improving health outcomes, we are incredibly proud of our partnership with Thrive and Allen County in the creation of a rural primary care health system that truly leaves no one behind.
In what can often seem like bleak times for health advocates in rural areas — lack of Medicaid expansion, a shrinking healthcare workforce, an increasingly fragile health infrastructure — there is an inspiring story of community engagement, of commitment, of hope and of success. Right here in our own backyard.
This blog post is part of A Healthy 10.