Dr. Ken Loving, CEO of Access Community Health Centers
Technically, Access Community Health Centers is a health care provider, but what makes their work so important is how they can strengthen the community. “Having kids healthy for school, and having adults healthy for the workplace... that's what gives them better lives and what makes the community better,” says Dr. Ken Loving, chief executive officer of Access. “It will make a healthier community for all of us.”
Since 1982, Access Community Health Centers has addressed the financial, cultural, and language barriers that prevent access to health care. As a not-for-profit charitable organization, they provide affordable and quality primary medical, dental, and behavioral health care and pharmacy services at five locations in Madison and Dane County.
It's an exciting time right now for Access as they will host their 30th anniversary celebration later this month at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. Here, they will kick off their $5 million fundraising capital campaign as they raise money for a brand-new clinic on South Park Street that will be three times as big as the facility that is currently there.
Providing a health care home is the foundation of care at Access Community Health Centers who help their patients achieve their best health so they can live full and active lives. They provide timely, well-organized care, and 24-hour access to doctors and health professionals. Access has seen about a 10-fold increase in patients over the last decade.
“We've grown significantly in the past 10 years or so,” says Loving, who has been CEO for about a year and a half. “In 2001, we had about 2,500 total patients at two sites. Now we have five sites and last year we saw almost 25,000 patients.”
Access specializes in working with patients who experience barriers to accessing health care, and their staff excels at removing those barriers, while still providing the highest-quality care. Access always make sure that their patients have the knowledge, skills, and resources they need.
“What I always say to people is that we didn't grow just because we wanted to grow ... we grew to meet the community need and because the phone continues to ring and people continue to need these services,” Loving says.
And it wasn't all growth in medical care. “In the past 10 years we've developed a dental practice ... we have 13 dentists working for us now,” Loving says. “We've expanded to five facilities. We've also started a behavioral health program so that we have psychologists that work in tandem with medical providers in the clinic. A lot of patients that we see have behavioral or mental health needs in addition to their health needs.”
About three years ago, Access started a pharmacy, as well. “That was another piece of the puzzle because when you make a plan for people a lot of times it includes medication,” Loving says. “And one of the difficulties is paying for medication. As a community health center we can get medication at a lower cost for our patients. So, that's an important piece.”
Community health centers (CHCs) in the United States are neighborhood health centers generally serving medically underserved areas (MUAs) which includes persons who are uninsured, underinsured, low-income, or those living in areas where little access to primary health care is available.
Medically underserved areas are areas or populations designated by the Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA, as having: too few primary care providers, high infant mortality, high poverty and/or high elderly population.
Community health centers really got their start in '60s by former President Lyndon Johnson as part of the “War on Poverty” with the idea that the federal government could get dollars directly to communities that needed them as opposed to sending it all to the states. Communities could lobby to form community health centers on their own. “There are 1,200 community health centers across the country that take care of 20 million people, that vast majority of whom are low income,” Loving says. “There are an array of services that are provided.”
About 60 percent of the people who use Access have BadgerCare and about 25 percent don't have insurance at all. One-third of their patients are under 18. Access takes care of a lot of young families who are often working two jobs or more to make ends meet. They have a sliding-fee scale based upon income.
“If you don't care for those people, what happens is that they wind up going to the emergency room or lingering with their conditions so that they are not leading a satisfying and productive life because of their health conditions,” he says. “And we know that we can do something about that.”
Loving is a family physician who graduated as a Family Medicine physician from the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago and spent time working in the Cook County Hospital.
“This is always the kind of work that I've wanted to do. I was the first full-time physician employed by Access. Over time, I became the medical director and then the chief medical officer and then the CEO,” Loving says. “I'm still in clinic three times a week seeing patients. I wouldn't give that up because it's an important part of what I do. I think it informs the decisions that you make as an administrator because I'm with the staff and the patients at all times. You really know what's going on out there.”
Being on the ground, Loving can see how the skyrocketing cost of health care in the United States has made for an unhealthier nation as a whole.
“We see people all the time — and this has been documented nationally with research studies and data — that either choose which medication to buy and not buy all the medication that they need, or they try to make their medication go further. So instead of taking a pill a day they try to take it every other day. When you're talking about chronic diseases like diabetes or asthma or depression, you really have to manage those closely to keep people healthy. So when that medication regiment isn't adhered to it's harder for the patient and harder to care for them.”
“I think people understand that if you prevent these things from happening you will keep people healthier and save money in the long run,” Loving adds. “But the way the system is structured is that people use medical and dental for acute needs. It sort of falls to the bottom of the priority list until it becomes a glaring need for people. They have other priorities — finding a job, putting food on the table, taking care of their kids ... so medical and dental and behavioral health care fades into the background unless it becomes an intense need.”
So many times Access sees people when they have that acute need or when they are sick or in pain. “We develop relationships with them so we can help them work on their more chronic issues or problems,” Loving says.”
In addition to their Wingra Clinic, Access has a clinic on East Washington Avenue and in Sun Prairie and Dodgeville. Their current South Side Clinic is located in the South Madison Health and Family Center on South Park Street.
Access first started providing medical services on the south side in 1990. In 1995, they went to that building in the Villager Mall and became part of Harambe. The new 21,000 square foot clinic is expected to open by the spring of 2014 just north of a building shared by the Urban League of Greater Madison, Madison Public Library and Planned Parenthood and across the street from Walgreen's. The clinic would add dental care and a pharmacy to the medical and behavioral health services Access provides in the area.
“This building will be really nice for the Park Street Corridor,” Loving said.
There will be a medical and dental clinic along with behavioral health services and pharmacy services. “Really what we would like to do with this project is to get community input on what people want to work on in South Madison,” Loving said. “About half of the patients that we see right now are from that neighborhood and we really expect that to continue and, in fact, grow as we get into this new facility.
At the Celebration of Service Dinner at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on March 29, Access will celebrate 30 years in the Madison community. They were incorporated in 1982 as the Madison Community Health Center, a small house on the 1100 block of Willy Street.
“The community will come together and recognize what we've accomplished but we will also talk about what we will be doing in the future,” Loving says. “We'll have over 500 people there. It's a great event.”
There will be a silent auction and Ladies Must Swing will perform.
“The focus will be on the new facility in south Madison,” Loving says. “We really see south Madison as typical of the neighborhood where we should be in this community. That's where community health centers are traditionally located in underserved neighborhoods across the country. South Madison is a place that we've been for many years now. Our priority for the new site was to stay as close to the original facility as we can.”
At the dinner, Access will be announcing the public phase of their $5 million capital campaign. “It's important to raise the money, but part of this is to raise awareness for what we do and what the issues are around medical care, dental care, behavioral health, and mental health care,” Loving says. “There are really some gaps in the community and we really want to step up and do as much as we can, not only to meet the need ourselves but to engage the community in meeting those needs for people.”
Access is looking forward to meeting the health care challenges of the future.
“The way that medical care is provided is really changing and it's a much more team-based approach and in the future it looks like we'll be reimbursed not just for patient visits but for how healthy the groups that we care for are,” Loving says. “It's not about the care we provide, it's about how effective that care is.”
They face a tremendous challenge with the economy the way it is, but Loving is optimistic. “People continue to struggle. Part of that struggle is that people don't have insurance coverage. When they become uninsured, we know that there are vast disparities in terms of how well people do in terms of their health,” Loving says. “People with chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma become uninsured, they don't do as well. They are sicker. When there are more people in that situation, it creates a greater strain on the medical system as a whole. Those are the big challenges we face. But we are confident we can overcome these challenges.”
Access Community Health Centers' new clinic is expected to open by the spring of 2014 on Madison's south side
For more information, visit www.accesscommunityhealthcenters.org/