Three Kansas-based health and social service organizations have made adjustments because of the COVID-19 pandemic as they have all seen an increased need for their services.
All three — Genesis Family Health, with clinics in Garden City, Dodge City, Liberal and Ulysses; GraceMed, with clinics in Wichita, Topeka, McPherson and Clearwater; and Wichita-based United Methodist Open Door Ministries — have ties to The United Methodist Church and the Great Plains Conference.
Genesis, CEO Julie Wright says, is doing the best it can to treat the physical and mental health of those in its coverage area.
Wright said there is an unprecedented need for food, either delivered or at pickup locations.
“Medically, people are being taken care of,” she said. “People are getting tested either by us or by the county health department. But it’s the uncertainty in being out of work and the social requirements of health that are coming into play now.”
Wright said those who were living with threats of domestic violence before the pandemic have found their situations escalated because of self-confinement, and Genesis is attempting to help them.
“That’s what we’re trying to do is be that social safety net,” she said. “We’re working with some churches and health coalitions around the community.”
Genesis is also working with meatpacking plants in southwest Kansas, establishing social distancing and trying to prevent the workers — many of them undocumented — from possibly taking the virus home with them.
“They’re trying to set up some sort of alternative self-quarantine for those who test positive, so they don’t take it home to their families,” she said. “The employees are tested and taken care of, but they may go home and because of cultural issues and the way that some people may have three or four generations in one home, it’s hard for them to social distance.”
Wright said Genesis has consulted with community colleges in the area for use of their dormitories to house some workers.
Genesis has turned to telehealth, “treating people at a distance,” Wright said.
“Telehealth is one of the big things that has changed the way we do services,” she added. “We don’t have the traffic we used to have. Telehealth, phone visits and phone outreach make sure our patients are engaged.”
Genesis is also going out into the community and doing more public health initiatives rather than direct service, Wright said.
“Our service has changed from a billable service to a public health service,” she said. “We don’t have any insurance or Medicaid offset for the services we’re providing. That’s a major hit to our finances. We accept the challenge of public health, but that is just a reality of the public health system, that public health is not paid for.”
Wright said that 20% of its previous budget came from grants, the rest from reimbursement from copays and patient payments on a sliding fee.
“Now for the service we’re providing there is no billing mechanism for that,” she said.
A donate button is on the upper right corner of the Genesis website.
Wright said volunteers are also needed for distributing food and helping with transportation.
In Ulysses, for example, 50 to 60 people used to show up for boxed commodities monthly. Lately, 200 have shown up for food distributed every other week.
“That puts a lot of strain on our basic services,” she said. “Volunteerism is extremely important right now.”
In the early weeks of the pandemic, GraceMed was forced to furlough a little less than 10% of its 320 employees at all locations, CEO Venus Lee said.
“Whenever any family member is out on furlough that does a lot for morale,” she said. “We’re in a process where we’re making sure that people are doing OK.”
But the pandemic has also convinced Lee how the people it serves appreciates GraceMed.
“What we’ve found is how connected we are to the community,” she said. “We knew those things, but when you’re connected to the community, but when you have places like Maize School District donating all kind of things and people in the community donating us masks and gowns and sanitizer, meals, that says a lot. I believe they did that as a thank you.”
GraceMed also has increased its use of telehealth, using video conferencing for all but behavioral health services, where communication by phone is acceptable.
“It’s a give and take, but I believe it’s made us stronger,” Lee said. “We have the opportunity to test out our normal operations and see if they’re fit for a situation such as this.”
All visitors to GraceMed’s 16 locations must have their temperature taken when they enter the building. If they have a fever or any other COVID-19 symptoms, they are asked to return to their vehicle and call the clinic. Dental patients are only seen if they are in extreme pain.
Drive-thru testing is available for those who believe they may have the coronavirus, Lee said, but are by appointment only.
Lee said that as a federally qualified health center, GraceMed was already responsible for having an on-hand emergency preparedness plan, but employees have proven how adaptable they can be.
“Even with the daily changes going on, we’ve had to reassess almost daily what the protocol needs to be — not what it is, but what it needs to be,” she said. “We’ve been able to test out all of our operational skills.”
Donations to GraceMed can be made through its website.
Lee said future steps for GraceMed after social distancing concludes will be taken slowly.
“We can’t assume anything. You hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” she said. “Even if our state does open up, our county can still extend it. If it so happens that everybody decides to open up, we need to keep our COVID protocol into place at a slower pace.”
Many changes have been made at United Methodist Open Door because of the pandemic, executive director Deann Smith said.
“We’re on the front lines,” she said. “We’re there to help folks who are hungry and homeless and hurting during this time.”
Among those is the temporary closing of its Klothes Kloset.
“We just don’t have the space to help people in a protective way from the virus,” Smith said. “And a lot of our staff and our volunteers are older, so we just chose for the time being to close that.”
Open Door’s day shelter has changed its hours to 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., she said. Because of social distancing, there is only room for about 38 people. Other shelters in Wichita have adjusted their hours in sync with each other, she said.
Everyone’s temperature is taken when they enter the building, Smith said, and all volunteers wear masks and gloves.
“We’re doing all we can to keep all of us, especially the clients, safe,” she said. “But they need those basics — they need a bathroom, they need a shower, they need to get their mail, they need to get lunch and do laundry. We’re staying open to make sure those needs are being taken care of.”
The largest food distribution program in the Wichita area, Open Door has had to change to a drive-thru program. To keep with government food guidelines, those receiving the food must still have a short interview and survey before receiving commodities.
“We need to have interaction with them more than just putting a box in a trunk,” she said.
Mid-March, Smith said, saw a 30% increase in food distribution from the previous month.
Open Door began giving disaster household distribution boxes to those who have been laid off, furloughed or are working decreased hours. Smith said 200 boxes were distributed April 23 and 24, “and that was with pouring rain on Friday.”
Smith said Open Door was anticipating making changes because of the pandemic and put it into action days after the first COVID-19 case was reported in Sedgwick County on March 13.
“We’d been talking about it, but once it’s right there in front of you, you don’t live it,” she said. “Just like everybody else, we’re learning on the fly and adapting on the fly.
We’re just doing the best we can to serve the people who need the basics in life.”
With increased need for food, Open Door is working with Kansas Food Bank and Feeding America to secure more without having to pay for it at the time, she said.
Churches and volunteers have stepped up, she said. The food program has changed from hot lunches to sack lunches to keep people from waiting in line.
“That hasn’t been easy because of the bread shortages and the meat shortages, but they’ve adapted, and we’re really appreciative of that,” Smith said.
Donations can be made on Open Door’s website and more volunteers are always needed, she said.
“We’re thankful for our partnership with the faith communities and our churches,” Smith added.
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