The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department recognized Kim Ens, director of Clinic Services, for 20 years of service during a recent staff meeting. Kim has worn a number of hats over the years and seen a lot changes in public health.
She joined the Health Department in 1993 as a nurse in the Family Planning program. Among her duties were giving sexually-transmitted disease exams, providing pregnancy tests and prescribing birth control.
“In nursing, you never know what’s coming next. You get the opportunity to do a lot of patient education, which I really love and enjoy,” she said.
Three years later, she became coordinator of the Communicable Disease program. She held this position on 9-11 and won’t soon forget fielding countless phone calls from citizens who were worried about bioterrorism. She said, “People were scared. They were worried about the mailing system and there was a lot of panic.”
Soon thereafter, her title changed to preparedness coordinator and she worked with community agencies, like Lawrence-Douglas County Fire and Medical and the Lawrence Police Department, to make sure the Health Department would have the help it needed if an outbreak or bioterrorism event occurred. Kim started the Medical Reserve Corps, a civilian volunteer group, and helped implement Together Prepared, a coalition of agencies that ensure vulnerable populations are included in emergency planning. “We developed a lot of new partners and I think people began to understand what public health is all about,” she said.
Nearly three years ago, Kim was named director of Clinic Services, which means she oversees most of the services that are provided on the first floor of the Health Department — Family Planning, Healthy Families Douglas County and the nursing clinic. Her role also includes fielding requests for community presentations, helping students who need to complete a practicum, working with the pharmacy consultant and overseeing the Advisory Council, a group of Health Department clients. She also has played an instrumental role in helping the Health Department move to a new electronic medical record system. Back when she started, there was only one computer. Today, all of the nurses have computers and many carry a laptop with them.
“I love my job. I love the whole mission of public health. I think we help our clients become more independent, especially in Healthy Families and WIC. We provide them with the resources they need to make their lives better.”
Often, she said, the Health Department’s clients are dealt tough issues to overcome. “It’s not a child’s fault that his mom is in prison or his dad is a drug addict, so I get frustrated when people say, ‘They just need to try harder,’” Kim said. “If you didn’t have a good mother or father, how do you know how to be one? I believe we help teach them and help them set goals. I think we provide ways for them to thrive.”
Kim’s longtime colleagues describe her as a great teacher, nurse and problem-solver. They say she is caring, fun loving and a joy to work with.
Shirley Grubbs, public health nurse, has worked with Kim since she started. She said, “Kim is an amazing woman. I think she has been a great advocate for nurses. She is such a caring person.”
Director Dan Partridge described Kim as passionate about making a difference and serving people in need. “What truly sets her apart is her willingness to step out of herself and meet people where they are,” he said.
Kim grew up in Hesston, Kan., and attended Tabor College in Hillsboro, where she met her husband, James. After getting married, they moved to Reynosa, Mexico, where they were house parents for Children’s Haven International for two years. They took care of about nine children, ranging from infants to teenagers, and most of them were orphans. They had no heat or hot water. She recalled collecting leftover food from area restaurants like Pizza Hut and KFC to feed the children. “It was pretty eye-opening for both of us.”
Then, they moved back to Hillsboro and eventually to Lawrence. Kim, who originally wanted to be a social worker, worked in a variety jobs — including waitressing and being a home childcare provider — before earning a nursing degree at Washburn University. Kim also has a bachelor’s degree in health education and a master’s degree in community health, both from the University of Kansas.
Kim hopes residents use the Lawrence-Douglas Health Department as their go-to resource for health information. Not only does the Department provide one-on-one education, but it also works with agencies to provide health services in the community and implement health policies at the state, local and national levels.
“People don’t think of Douglas County has having a lot of needs, but there are,” she said. “There are a lot of people who have issues and I’m looking forward to the Health Department making our community healthier.”