Over the past few months, multiple reports have illuminated a range of public health problems in Shawnee County. When the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released their annual County Health Rankings &Roadmaps, the people of Shawnee County discovered that their rank had slipped from 51st in 2016 to 65th (out of 102 participating Kansas counties) this year. Meanwhile, the 2016 Shawnee County Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) cited everything from widespread obesity to low infant immunization rates to a lack of mental health services.
We discussed the County Health Rankings &Roadmaps study in a previous editorial, and the Community Health Needs Assessment (which is produced by Stormont Vail Health, Shawnee County Health Agency and St. Francis Health) contains similar findings. For example, 68 percent of the adults in Shawnee County are overweight or obese (higher than average in Kansas), 54 percent of infants don’t receive all their immunizations by age 2, 17 percent of adults under 65 don’t have health insurance and roughly 50 percent of adults have one or more chronic health conditions.
These are just a few of the reasons why the development of a new GraceMed clinic at 1400 S.W. Huntoon St. — the site of a former Dillons grocery store — is welcome news for Topeka. The 23,000-square-foot health center is expected to receive around 10,000 patients per year, and it will include a pharmacy, 25 exam rooms, an optometry clinic that will provide resources for two optometrists, operatories that can accommodate four dentists and two hygienists, and rooms dedicated to behavioral health consulting. GraceMed’s capital campaign — Project Wellspring — is an effort to raise $2.37 million to repurpose the property (as well as a $3.3 million “stretch goal” to establish Shawnee County’s first school-based clinic).
The project will cost almost $4 million, but the director of community development for GraceMed, Alice Weingartner, says $1.57 million has already been committed from a federal Health Infrastructure Improvement Program grant, Shawnee County, Stormont Vail and the Capitol Federal Foundation. This support for community health care is critical — particularly at a time when the future of St. Francis is in question.
Like St. Francis, GraceMed serves a large number of low-income patients. But this brings up another public health issue that was pointed out in the CHNA — 10 percent of Shawnee County’s low-income population live in “food deserts.” These are low-income areas where it’s difficult for residents to find healthy food options, primarily due to the lack of a nearby grocery store. When people don’t have access to nutritional food, it can have a vast array of negative effects on health (which ensures that those in poverty will stay in poverty).
One of Shawnee County’s lowest ranks in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation /University of Wisconsin study was in the “health behaviors” section. This includes rates of excessive drinking, smoking, physical inactivity and, of course, obesity. With the prevalence of food deserts in Shawnee County, it’s worth remembering that GraceMed’s new clinic will be in a former Dillons.
Topekans and their neighbors in Shawnee County will benefit from the GraceMed health center, but we need to figure out a way to set up incentives that keep people out of hospitals and clinics in the first place.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Hosman, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.
Editorial: A holistic approach to health care