The population of Stevens County is less than 5,800, but its health department has more than 7,000 patients, and it's out of space.
Many of those patients are so-called Low German Mennonites, or Mexican Mennonites, said Paula Rowden, administrator of the health department in the southwest corner of the state. They typically have come to Kansas from Mexico, looking for jobs in agriculture or livestock.
"They seem to be at the greatest risk. They're the ones that are utilizing the emergency room for medical care," Rowden said.
She said the Mennonites present a unique challenge because of their culturally restricted level of education.
"They don't typically educate children beyond sixth grade," Rowden said. "So you talk about people that really have difficulty comprehending complex health issues — this is a group that needs help."
According to a 2007 estimate by the Kansas Statewide Farmworker Health Program, there are likely 3,000 to 5,000 Low German Mennonites in southwest Kansas.
Rowden said what's needed are health education programs that address the education and language barriers. Examples would include classes that explain the importance of being vaccinated or how to manage chronic disease, such as diabetes or hypertension.
However, her 5,000-square-foot facility is out of room. "We certainly don't have enough space to provide all the services we would like to," Rowden said.
But by year's end, the health department will have twice the space thanks to a county-funded renovation project.
New space, more services
The $265,000 project to renovate an 11,000-square-foot building owned by the county is scheduled to start June 1.
The space being renovated for the health department is a soon-to-be-vacated 54-bed nursing home. On May 23, its clients will be moved to a new 80-bed nursing home.
The old nursing home has two wings, one of which is being renovated.
"We need this to capitalize on that prevention and health promotion piece that is so critical in people understanding how to take care of themselves," Rowden said.