A medically underserved area (MUA) constitutes a shortage of primary health care services for residents within a geographic area. The area surrounding Sam Rodgers Health Center, located at 825 Euclid in Kansas City’s urban core, is designated as an MUA. To address this primary care shortage and to increase access to care for the community’s most vulnerable population, children, plans are underway for a new 40-room, 30,000-square-foot pediatric wing. It will house WIC, behavioral health, and dental to enhance the accessibility of these services—and is slated to create 37 new jobs.

Filling the Void

The need is huge. According to the Missouri State Medical Association (MSMA), Missouri lacks primary care physicians with expectations of a widening shortage over the next 20 years. By 2030, Missouri will need an additional 687 primary care physicians, constituting an 18% increase of its current workforce, to maintain the status quo. However, the status quo comes with its own deficits. Missouri needs 363 primary care physicians to overcome current health professional shortages, as stated by MSMA.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Sam Rodgers’ service area, particularly in ZIP codes 64123-64127, has flagrant primary care provider shortages. For pediatric care, this shortage is even more pronounced. Add to that Children’s Mercy’s inability to see newborns, and a sizable access gap will mount in pediatrics in the 10-county metro area on both sides of the state line.

“The unfortunate part about kids who live in our area is there are not enough providers to see them,” said Sam Rodgers’ Chief Operating Officer Janelle Harvey Jordan, SPHR. “That is having more than one impact on our kids. If their mouth hurts or if they’re sick, they can’t go to school. They can’t study, and that just holds them back and stifles their ability to compete with other kids who have access to a primary care doctor or a dentist.” Jordan added that getting health practitioners to work in the urban core remains a challenge and perpetuates health professional shortages.

Plans to build the pediatric wing couldn’t come at a better time and will add three additional providers to Sam Rodgers’ medical staff. “This will give more kids the opportunity to come and get the services they need without going to the emergency room,” said Sam Rodgers’ CEO, Bob Theis, CPA, BA, MA. “So not only is the pediatric wing going to help kids in our area, it’s also going to relieve some of the ER burden from area hospitals.”

Theis has seen firsthand how increased accessibility to care supports partnering hospitals. “North Kansas City Hospital said the number of people entering their hospital without prenatal care decreased by 50% since we’ve been in the Northland. It all stacks up,” he said. “Prenatal care is very important to a healthy birth. Healthy birth weight leads to healthy babies. Healthy babies lead to healthy children in school. And healthy school children lead to thriving communities.”

Continuum of Equitable Care 

The pediatric wing will house WIC, behavioral health, and dental services, offering a one-stop shop of sorts. “Behavioral health will be proximate to all of the other services,” Jordan said. “It is not only huge for American children, but also for our refugee population. I think oftentimes we forget that they are coming from war-torn areas. The PTSD they experience we can’t fathom.” Theis and Jordan said integrating behavioral health will help identify and address depression, suicidal ideation, and other emotional trauma.

Additionally, hygienists and three dental chairs will provide children with dental screenings and referrals to Rodgers’ dental clinic. The WIC program will provide food vouchers, nutritional education, and even lactation consulting for breastfeeding mothers, among other services. 

“Four years ago, 33% of our WIC clients also saw us for medical, dental, and behavioral health services,” Theis said. “Today, we’re at 44%. I want us to be above 50% and consistently grow that number.”

For birthing people, the pediatric wing will offer not only WIC but a place they can return to after they give birth—with their newborn. Newborn checks consist of six visits up to 18 months old, which allows providers to check on the mothers’ emotional, physical, and social needs. “When they are visiting the pediatric wing for WIC, our hope is that they want to return with their child,” Theis said. “Everything is right there; everything is state of the art. We want to see mom back, and we want them to bring their baby, too.”

Overarching Benefits

The pediatric wing comes with another benefit: more physical space. “One of the smartest things they did when they built this building is they made all of the rooms exactly identical,” Jordan said. “They are all the same size and same shape. What makes them different is what’s on the walls.”

With pediatrics having its own wing, it will free up rooms to add providers for other services like women’s health and adult medicine to serve a broader spectrum of patients. It will also serve Sam Rodgers’ nurse residency program, the first program of this kind in any FQHC in Missouri, allowing residents a bird’s-eye view of pediatric care to support hands-on, practical application. 

“They will see how health care works across the board, from prenatal care, to newborn checks, to adult medicine and so much more,” Jordan said. An added value is the residents selected for the program are diverse. About 60% of clinic patients are served in a language other than English. As a result, Sam Rodgers’ practitioners provide care in roughly 40 different languages. “We need people who look like the patients that come through our doors,” Jordan said. “Our nurse practitioner residents look like our patients.”

An Appeal for High Quality, Compassionate, and Affordable Health Care

As plans are being laid for a groundbreaking this spring, fundraising is still in full swing. The pediatric wing capital campaign is a $23.5 million project, with $20,285,00 raised as of mid-February 2024. However, more support is needed. 

“We have about $2.3 million left to raise to receive a $2 million challenge grant from the Mabee Foundation,” Theis said. “It’s almost a dollar-for-dollar match right now. We are asking donors to help us leverage the additional dollars needed to receive the grant, and increase access to high quality, compassionate, and affordable health care in the center of the Metro.” 

Theis added that Sam Rodgers is 10 miles from the Chiefs stadium, about a mile from the planned location of the new Royals stadium, and a half-mile from the new soccer stadium. “We’re in the middle of it all,” he said. “But you can be in the middle of it all and still have needs, especially for people who live on the edges in our community. We are going to make sure the kids in our neighborhood have the best quality care they can get.” 

Sam Rodgers’ service area includes 3700 households that lack a vehicle,  and many who live below the poverty line lack safety nets like Medicaid and food stamps. Missouri’s children make up more than half of people kicked off Medicaid as redetermination continues, accounting for roughly 16,262 kids according to the Department of Social Services. 

“Everyone can put their mind and money toward helping children, because if our children are healthy and we’re giving them a great pathway, then that means the city will be healthier in the future because we are taking the time now to provide the services that our kids need,” Jordan said. “We want healthy children who become healthy adults. This works for everyone. The donations we receive will impact the whole city.”

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For more information, contact Executive Director of Fund Development Kelsie Fell at KFell@SamRodgers.org.