PITTSBURG — Krista Postai is on the front lines of healthcare. It’s sometimes grim and never simple — but regardless, the tide is starting to turn, particularly in Allen County.
Postai is the CEO of the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, that recently expanded its medical reach to Iola with Drs. Brian Wolfe and Glen Singer. The CHC opened a dental clinic in 2008 with Dr. Arthur Unruh.
The center’s headquarters is in Pittsburg. Postai recently gave her thoughts on community healthcare: What it is, where it is going and what needs to change.
“A county, a state, a nation are only as healthy as the people who live in it,” Postai said. “And southeast Kansas is not very healthy.”
Numerous reasons account for SEK’s health rating, with poverty being a major contributor; hence the CHCSEK.
Started in 1997, the non-profit organization’s goal is to provide healthcare to those who need it, and particularly those who can’t afford it. Through foundation funding, government reimbursements and grants, the CHC provides access to health, dental and mental services.
“Community health in not only one place, it is a concept, it’s a philosophy,” she said.
The CHCSEK began in a trailer in Pittsburg. Today, there are eight clinics across southeast Kansas, not including a school van that travels as well as prison clinics. The Pittsburg headquarters is currently undergoing a massive expansion, from 15,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet. The new facility will have all services — physical, mental and dental — in one place.
It’s all part of the “medical home,” she said, which is currently a “buzz word” in healthcare. Health experts are beginning to realize that patients have a whole body, and they need to be treated as one system.
Providing an all-in-one healthcare facility is especially beneficial for those who live in poverty, Postai said.
Results, however, are hard to see.
The area’s poor health statistics — high rates of obesity and blood pressure and smoking, low birth rates, high absenteeism at work — “have been this way for a hundred years, they are not going to change overnight,” Postai said. “But when we focus on things, they get better. It’s funny how that works.”
Being poor means something different than it did 50 or 60 years ago, Postai explained. It used to mean growing your own food, working outside and spending most of your day being active. Now it means fast food, long work hours and very little time to stay healthy or educate yourself on how to eat.
Postai said several years back she sent a physician to a small farming community to do checkups. He came back amazed, saying that there was not a single obese child in town. The reason? No fast food outlets and the majority worked on farms getting plenty of exercise. The connection is easy to see, she said.
It seems the nature of the front lines have changed.
OF COURSE, Postai had some opinions on how politics have affected the way she can fight the good fight.
“The business of healthcare has gotten very complicated, and it’s not fun,” she said. “It’s not fun.”
Kansas’ failure to expand Medicaid has hurt the clinics in almost every way. People are often too poor to qualify for insurance, which means the CHC is footing the bill. Hospitals are going to see a reduction in funding from Medicaid as well, but won’t see as much of an increase in the insured due to the holdout on expansion.
“It’s been very difficult to tell people ‘you are too poor, or you’re not poor enough,’” Postai said. “It leaves a large number, especially in southeast Kansas of working poor.”
She said contrary to many beliefs, the majority of people that seek assistance from the CHC work several jobs and long hours.
“These are people that work very hard every day,” she said. “Politics aside, it’s about people and it’s about social justice.”
She said southeast Kansas, including Allen County, has been in a downward spiral for 100 years, and some sort of major intervention must happen to stop that ball from rolling.
“We are not going to get better without a major intervention,” she said. “Medicaid expansion could be a catalyst for change.”
IT’S NOT all bad news. The CHC is seeing change in almost every region, especially Allen County.
“I don’t see anything like what’s going on in Allen County,” she said. “I see pockets, but the community is not engaged like it is in Allen County.”
The Healthcare Foundation of Greater Kansas City recently awarded Iola’s clinic $200,000 to increase access to medical and dental services. According to the press release, when the Iola site began providing medical care in August with Drs. Singer and Wolfe, the number of patient visits increased from 3,193 to 7,731. Thirty percent of those were uninsured.
She said people like Singer, Wolfe and those with the Kansas City foundation are the ones that “get it” and are doing everything in their power to help. After the dentist clinic was opened by the CHCSEK in Iola, Wolfe and Singer saw the impact, and the additional need for medical care.
“They (Wolfe and Singer) came to me and said, ‘it’s not getting better, we are going all in,” she said.
It’s a concerted effort by a small group that is making an impact in the community, maybe more than they even know.
“You’re sort of a petri dish for the rest of the state,” Postai said of Allen County’s SEKCHC, “You’ve got a community that said what we have is not good enough and we need to change — against the odds.
“It’s wonderful to be a part of the experiment known as Allen County.”