By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
A $4.7 million federal grant awarded to the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas should translate into both an economic gift and a health gift to the community, its director said.
“In my 10 years here, everything has been important. This exceeds important — this is life-changing,” said Krista Postai, who heads up the Pittsburg-based clinic that has six other locations in Southeast Kansas.
The local grant is part of $21 million awarded this week to community health centers by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through the Affordable Care Act. The department’s secretary, former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, said clinics in Junction City, Hutchinson, Salina and Wichita also would receive awards.
Recipients estimate the money will help them serve about 39,500 new patients, the department reported. To qualify, the centers had to demonstrate a high degree of need. The local clinic is seeing 450 new patients each month, Postai said.
The announcement came on the anniversary of the center’s opening in 2003. At that time, it served patients from a double-wide trailer parked behind the Family Resource Center.
In 2007, the clinic opened in a new building on the former site of the area’s first hospital, Mount Carmel, on Mount Carmel Road. Since then, patient load has expanded, but the square footage —15,000 — has not.
“Because of growth, we’re inefficient again,” Postai said.
The grant money will be used for a 25,000-square-foot expansion that could begin as early as July. It also will be used to renovate the existing building, where the patient load is so high that medical professionals are using closets and restrooms as makeshift service and office space.
“Our parking lot is packed. Our waiting room is packed. It’s essential we grow,” Postai said. “It is to handle what we’re doing now but also look to the future. We have people staggering days off to have space to provide services.”
But it’s not about the building, Postai said; it’s what can be done with the building.
“Staff have identified some gaps in services that need to be filled, including optometry and audiology testing,” she said. “We can collaborate with more community partners and house more resources here.”
Postai anticipates in the next three years adding 30 to 40 positions — doubling the center’s current 40 jobs — to accommodate the expansion. The average salary at the center is $45,000, she said.
Postai said the staff also would be seeking to raise $1 million in additional funding to put toward the effort. A groundbreaking is slated for July.
LAST YEAR, the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas opened clinics in Baxter Springs and Coffeyville, bringing the number of service locations to seven.