Health Care in Shawnee County During COVID-19

Health Care in Shawnee County During COVID-19 was the topic of the Aug 4, 2020, League of Women Voters Topeka-Shawnee County Tuesday Topics presentation by Linda Ochs, Director Shawnee County Health Department and Alice Weingartner, Chief Strategy Officer Community Care Network of Kansas. Normally these public meetings are held at the library, however, with COVID-19 the meeting was held virtually. We’ve included the recorded presentation and provided highlights below. The library is a partner with the League of Women Voters Topeka-Shawnee County in sharing non-partisan civic information.

Alice Weingartner, Chief Strategy Officer, Community Care Network of Kansas

“We exist to achieve equitable access to high quality health care for all Kansans” said Weingartner.

The Network includes 34 community based clinics in Kansas. More than 1 in 9 individuals in our state receive their care at a Community Health Center in or near their community. As a network of clinics they provided more than 1 million visits to Kansans in 2019.

Since March, these clinics radically shifted the work they had been doing to address the COVID-19 pandemic in their communities. Clinics saw a 90 percent decrease in in-person visits and pivoted to providing telehealth, telemedicine, behavioral health through telemedicine and teledentistry. In addition they added testing for COVID-19 and respiratory clinics to serve their populations.

Community of Care Network of Kansas is helping distribute and coordinating PPE (personal protective equipment) to the clinics. The network also encourages collaboration between clinics and local health departments, before and during the pandemic.

Linda Ochs, Director, Shawnee County Health Department

The Shawnee County Health Department has been doing more with less, and when the pandemic started, most of their staff were moved to this effort. They are also offering COVID-19 testing by appointment. The department has worked closely with Emergency Management for years and that is paying off now for Shawnee County. Dusty Nichols is the Incident Commander for the Shawnee County COVID response. Ochs strongly encouraged everyone to wear masks in public #maskuptopeka #maskupsnco.

Contact Tracing Infographic from the CDC: Do your part to keep your family, friends and community safe.

The department’s immunization clinic reopened recently with appointments for uninsured kids and kids with Medicaid.

County Health Rankings

The 2020 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps were not published widely, but Shawnee County saw a ranking drop in several areas.

“We continue to see so many health disparities, especially among Hispanic and African American populations,” said Ochs. “We also see this in the news headlines as part of the COVID outcomes within populations and health disparities. We need to work in these areas in the Community Health Improvement Plan as well as responding to COVID.”

Community Health Improvement Plan

Ochs discussed items the department would be working on if we weren’t in a pandemic. This included individual services and implementing the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) to focus on the health of the community. She looks forward getting back to community health work including partnering with Valeo Behavioral Health Care and Shawnee County Parks and Recreation. The plan also includes to providing Family Planning services for people who need that in the community.

Heartland Healthy Neighborhoods takes the lead on the Community Health Improvement Plan and the Community Health Planner helps mark the progress and show the data. The 2020 – 2022 Community Health Improvement Plan for Shawnee County identifies the four areas priority ares:

  1. Behavioral Health
  2. Access to Food
  3. Substance Use
  4. Health Equity

Social Determinants and Social Needs: Moving Beyond Midstream

“Policy is the vaccine for social determinants of health,” said Ochs. Some examples of policies with community health impact include Tobacco 21, which held up in court, and the current mask ordinance in Shawnee County. Ochs said that elected officials mostly hear from the people who are unhappy. She recommends everyone share their opinions with elected officials about concerns and policies that can impact the community.

Moving Beyond Midstream Health

Looking at this diagram within the example of the current COVID-19 situation is useful to understanding each part of the stream.

  • Downstream includes clinical care, medical interventions, those hospitalized, testing and care at the individual level. We have good health care in Shawnee County. That area is going well.
  • Midstream includes referrals to social service agencies, giving people thermometers, hoping the community resources are used to meet the needs here with food and housing concerns for individuals. These resources allow health providers to focus on health.
  • Upstream includes the orders from the County Health Officer around masks, mass gatherings, bars and restaurants, and supporting schools as they develop their policies.

Post-COVID Priorities

Now that Public Health has your attention from the pandemic – let’s see what else we can get done. The Shawnee County Health Department and the Community Care Network of Kansas want to continue to be effective on public health issues outside of the pandemic as well.

Priorities include:

  • Maintaining access to some of these new ways to see patients, like telehealth access.
  • Expanding Medicaid to provide health coverage for many more Kansans.
  • Addressing issues caused by the under-funding of public health.

Keep Learning

The library’s Research Databases include resources related to health and current events, along with a page collecting COVID-19 Information and Resources for the community from local, state and national authorities and organizations.

Lissa Staley

Lissa Staley helps people use the library. She is a Book Evangelist, Trivia Emcee, Classics Made Modern book discussion leader, NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison, and frequent library customer. She loves her kids, being a librarian, living in Topeka, and helping people form connections and community. (She's the Community Connections Librarian!) She reads a new book every few days, but is enjoying the audiobook of "Empress of Forever" by Max Gladstone, the ebook "When We Were Magic" by Sarah Gailey and is eagerly awaiting John Scalzi's "The Last Emperox" in April!