For years, poor patients in this southeast Kansas community have relied on a free health clinic that operates on Thursday afternoons out of a Bible school classroom.
In its heyday, the Parsons Community Clinic could count on about a dozen primary care physicians and an equal number of nurses to volunteer at the First Assembly of God building at North 16th Street and Dirr Avenue. It still treats about 35 to 45 patients each week for everything from rashes to diabetes.
But now, with the volunteers getting up in years, the clinic faces an uncertain future — and local medical leaders essentially are trying to put it out of business.
“That is our hope, yes,” said Dr. Stephen Miller, a retired surgeon who helped found the clinic 15 years ago.
n its place, though, members of the Southeast Kansas Healthcare Collaborative are proposing a model that, at least according the group’s research, does not exist anywhere else in the country.
The plan is to create a rural health network that would connect providers via computer to create a “virtual” federally qualified health center, or FQHC, serving Labette, Neosho and Wilson counties. FQHCs typically are bricks-and-mortar facilities offering primary care services in underserved communities.
Led by Labette Health, the hospital in Parsons, and its Chief Executive Officer Jodi Schmidt, collaborative members hope the idea is unique enough to earn funding through the new Health Care Innovation program administered by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
They have an $11.4 million grant request pending before the agency that would allow them to develop and implement the plan.
The collaborative is targeting an area with about 50,500 residents in a corner of the state that has some of the worst health outcomes among Kansas’ 105 counties, according to the County Health Rankings from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This year’s ranks are Labette (91), Wilson (87) and Neosho (83).
Members of the collaborative are striving to achieve the “triple aim” of better individual care, better population health and lower per capita health care costs.
The virtual health center plan
Under the plan, organizers would establish a nonprofit organization – overseen by a 21-member board – to manage the virtual community health center. The center would contract with primary care physicians and midlevel providers at hospitals in the three counties.