Mike Sherry — The Hale Center for Journalism
The city of Kansas City, Mo., Health Department has taken an initial step in its effort to improve service north of the river, and city officials said the move could be a precursor to a combined health and transit hub at one of the Northland’s busiest intersections.
In mid-January, according to Deputy Director Bert Malone, the health department posted four inspectors to space the city is renting from Northland Neighborhoods Inc., a community development organization at 4420 N.E. Choteau Trafficway. The inspectors handle a variety of duties, including doing safety and cleanliness reviews of restaurants, child-care establishments and motels.
Establishing a Northland presence has energized staff “who like the pioneering aspect of being in a new area,” Malone said, “and it puts us a lot closer to our patrons, and frankly, many said to go to 24th and Troost (the main health department office) was problematic” because it was too far away. Services offered at main office include immunizations and food-handler training classes.
Malone and other officials, including Hilda Fuentes, CEO of Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, said transportation issues among low-income residents are why they are hopeful about cementing a partnership with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority in the Northland.
The hope among officials, including Dick Jarrold, senior director for the transportation authority, is that all sides can cooperate in the redevelopment of about a 1-acre site the KCATA owns at the corner of Northeast Vivion and Northeast Antioch roads. Formerly the site of the old Antioch Center shopping mall, developers are building a new retail center at that corner.
As envisioned, the joint facility would serve as a transit center for riders on the six bus lines that serve that area and house a number of safety-net providers. Along with the Kansas City Health Department, potential tenants could include Sam Rodgers, Tri-County Mental Health and the Clay County health department.
The timetable for construction and allocation of funds remain uncertain, Jarrold said, but preliminary discussions have focused on a building that could cost as much as $2 million and include as much as 7,500 square feet. Partnering with safety net providers makes sense for the transportation authority, he said, since their customer bases overlap.
As CEO of Northland Neighborhoods Inc., which works to revitalize older parts of the community, Deb Hermann has seen transportation challenges limiting residents’ access to health care. Some residents, she said, live seven or eight miles away from the Clay County health department.
“And it might as well be 700 or 800 miles,” Hermann said. “And the same goes for 24th and Troost. For those us that have vehicles and go out and get in them whenever we feel like, that is not a bad jaunt, but it is a huge challenge for many of our low-income residents.”
Jarrold and Malone said discussions in the Northland reflect the desire of each of their organizations to serve parts of the city outside the urban core. For instance, Jarrold said, the transportation authority has plans to build a transit facility around Bannister Road and Blue Ridge Boulevard in south Kansas City.
A community-needs assessment, completed in the fall by a nonprofit health organization in the Northland, said there is a “severe shortage” of family doctors, dental services and mental health providers serving low-income residents within seven ZIP codes north of the river. The study area encompassed a large swath of the Northland, stretching from Parkville to the north and east of Liberty.
Out of a population of nearly 162,000 residents in the study area, according to the report, nearly a third of the residents were at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The 200 percent threshold is $47,100 for a family of four.
According to the report, out of 118 primary care physicians in the study area, about three quarters of them accept Medicaid. Of that group, only about a quarter of the physicians are currently accepting new Medicaid patients.
Fuentes, the Sam Rodgers CEO, said its clinic in the Northland is bursting at the seams. The clinic sits in a roughly 2,600-square-foot space in a strip shopping center at North Oak Trafficway and Vivion Road.
Rodgers could use double the space it has, she said. Moving to a new transit facility would make a lot of sense for the clinic, she said.
“Between growth, the ability to provide additional services and accessibility,” Fuentes said, “those are really the three reasons why we would look into moving.”