The coronavirus pandemic has strengthened Genesis Family Health, its leaders say.
Genesis, with locations in Garden City, Dodge City, Liberal and Ulysses, receives part of its funding from the Great Plains Conference and Garden City First United Methodist Church. It provides medical and dental clinics, behavioral health care, social services, emergency assistance, immunization, health education and outreach to residents of southwest Kansas.
“The pandemic season has been very challenging for our agency, not unlike everyone else,” said Jessica Ardery, chief operations officer. “But for Genesis, being the community health center that we are and by definition a gap-filler, it’s been an opportunity for us to step up and truly do that, fill gaps for our communities in a number of ways.”
Based in Garden City, Genesis — formerly known as United Methodist Western Kansas Mexican American Ministries — has become the leader in southwest Kansas for coronavirus testing.
Since mid-May, each lab has had COVID-19 rapid antigen tests, which delivers results in 15 minutes. It is being used by employers, community colleges and is available for anyone in the area without a doctor’s referral.
It has grown to more than 600 tests per month.
“We’re very grateful that we’ve been able to step up and meet the needs as asked,” Ardery said.
Genesis also has responded to the increase in demand for telehealth services, where patients who were not able to meet with a provider in person could do so over the phone or internet.
“Operationally, I think telehealth is not going away,” Ardery said. “That’s something I think we’ve acknowledged across every department that we really need to own, sooner than much later. While we’ve got a pretty solid footing in many aspects, we’ve had the good fortune of some grants and support that’s enabled some new equipment, and things like that helped us really be a first mover and take some advantage of cutting-edge technology.”
A telehealth kit — a tablet that can patch into the clinic with attachments to record blood pressure and pulse and attachments for a stethoscope and to look into ears, noses and throats — can be used by nurses off-site and relayed to nurse-practitioners such as Sam Goetschius.
“It is more clear than my vision is,” Goetschius, Genesis clinical director, said of the kits, which are scheduled to arrive this fall.
The downside of telehealth, he said, is that many of the lower-income patients might not have the needed technology.
“There are still people out there with flip phones, or they don’t have internet access, or they don’t have data, or they don’t have minutes or ways for us to really connect,” Goetschius said. “For those individuals, trying to get them to come into the clinic has been important.”
The number of patients coming into the clinics has returned to its pre-pandemic levels, Ardery said.
“We were able to see really marked rebounds by May and middle June. Productivity was largely back to where it used to be,” she said. “I don’t think that outreach services or social support really slowed down. I think if anything, (we) probably got busier and were out and about a bit more.”
Genesis includes the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Case Management Center, which includes about 70 patients in western and central Kansas, in an area larger than Genesis’ coverage area.
Dorothy Mesa, case manager and navigator for the Ryan White center, said that before the pandemic, doctors from the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita would fly to Garden City every six to seven weeks to see patients.
But that has changed with telemedicine.
“Telehealth really did put us in a great place,” Mesa said. “I feel like the state and KU were especially grateful we were poised with the technical infrastructure and the equipment to make that happen.”
However, “it’s starting to get a little uncomfortable for them,” she said of the patients. “Of course, they want to see their provider face to face.”
Vanessa Gaytan, a licensed social worker for Genesis, said there have been increased need for counseling for children, couples and families.
“There was a lot of depression and anxiety with children, especially since we were limiting pro-social activities — school and all of that,” she said. “There were a lot of social changes that caused a lot of anxiety and depression, and since school was started, it’s been better. It’s almost like it was needed.
“I’m still seeing a lot of anxiety with the changes,” Gaytan added. “Marital conflict increased greatly. I used to see hardly any of those needs, and then that increased. There was a lot of family dynamic changes that have happened since COVID.”
Gaytan said she also has heard more needs from individuals for spirituality.
“Churches were closing, stuff like that. There were a lot of people that had a lot of spiritual disconnect and were kind of searching for that (so they) … reached out to different places.”
The changing situation for schools — whether in-person, online or a hybrid of the two — have caused families stress, said Andrea Gallegos, a service navigator for Genesis.
Families are struggling to find day care or provide extra meals for kids learning at home, she said.
“Grocery lists changed, and the need for food definitely increased too. Utilities and rent needed to be paid,” Gallegos said. “We’ve gotten a lot of requests for both of those, although we do not assist with rent.”
Genesis had received Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to assist with utilities, but they were quickly exhausted. It has begun working with other social service agencies in southwest Kansas to provide food distribution for families. Every other Thursday, food bags are given to 100 to 150 families, serving nearly 500 individuals.
“It’s invited some great new partnerships with groups we have not worked closely with in the past,” Ardery said.
Goetschius said patients at the clinic have fewer uncertainties about coronavirus than they did in its earlier months.
“In the early days of the pandemic, especially, I spent a whole lot of time counseling about the virus with every single patient. Everybody had questions, everybody had concerns,” he said. “We spent a lot of time talking about that thing and really trying to assuage people’s fears. There was a lot of conflicting information, especially early on.”
One of Goetschius’ concerns has been the increased relapses from those with opioid addictions.
“A lot of addicts have what we call distraction activities to help them combat cravings,” he said. “Those activities for the most part were cancelled. They couldn’t go to bingo hall or to the movies or talk with friends. The gatherings, group-type things like AA completely stopped. You saw increased relapse because of that. There’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear.”
That fear, he said, caused the recovering addicts to be conservative with their own medications.
“That helps with the cravings, eliminates craving. They had a strong fear that was going to run out just like toilet paper was gone,” he said. “I had to tell people there wasn’t going to be this enormous increase in bulk purchasing of the meds and that I was still going to be there, whether that was through telemed or in person, they would still be able to reach me.”
The pandemic also was the impetus for Genesis to add a 24-hour helpline, 1-855-GFH-AIDE (855-434-2433) that assists patients with their concerns.
“Their closest patient navigator reaches out for them and gives them the resources that they need,” said Uriel Campos, special projects coordinator. “If we can’t provide it for them, we reach out to other local organizations to get them what they need.”
The pandemic has brought more respect to Genesis in the community, Gaytan said.
“At first it was highly promoted (for testing) during COVID, ‘Go to the health department, go to the health department,’” she said. “And you hear now, ‘Go to Genesis, you’ll get your test back faster.’”
“This is the whole reason a community health center exists, to serve the needs of the community through good times and bad,” Goetschius said.
Ardery agreed that the community has realized a need for Genesis.
“We are able to truly care for an individual across the spectrum of need,” she said. “Not only do they come to us for a health malady, but we can walk them over to … behavioral health and to dental … and for financial hardship and job searching. Truly that’s a really unique and special place for us to be, that we can walk someone through the entire need situation and really help them.”
That sets the stage for further growth, Ardery said.
“For years, we operated in this area as a social service agency that did free health care. And truly we know we offer much more than that,” she said. “Our communities are still realizing that, and I think the thing we’ve sort of adopted in the midst of all of this is not proclaiming to the community what we do, but just doing as we’re called to do it and do it to the best of our abilities. As we continue to step up and
meet those needs, the community will increasingly come to know that we’re here and know all we can do by our deeds.
“This season has been a good identity check for us and helped us come into our own,” Ardery continued. “We’re not going to be the most shiny thing out there necessarily, but if you give us a chance to do something for you, we’ll do it to the Nth degree and go above and beyond.”
Contact David Burke, communications content specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.