When I first met Megan Skaggs, she was holding an overflowing four-inch-thick binder.
“I would love to get rid of it,” she says, but for now, that binder is irreplaceable. It’s where she keeps everything–and until all referrals are made digitally, it’s not leaving her side.
As the Executive Director of Shawnee County Medical Society (SCMS) HealthAccess, Skaggs works with uninsured patients who are at or below 150% of the federal poverty level. She receives referrals from various providers and organizations in the city, including Stormont Vail Health, where she previously worked as the Regional Relations Liaison.
When an individual is referred to HealthAccess, they are matched with a primary care physician (PCP), if they don’t already have one, and are then matched with the services they need, the costs of which are covered through donations. If a patient needs to have a scheduled surgery, for instance, HealthAccess will work with the local hospitals to schedule that. If they need to visit a specialist, such as an oncologist, HealthAccess will coordinate the service.
The ultimate goal of HealthAccess is to keep individuals out of the emergency department.
Up until the pandemic, HealthAccess was serving an average of 1,550 to 1,600 individuals each month. However, when the government impact payments arrived, many were deemed ineligible for HealthAccess. At their lowest point during the pandemic, HealthAccess had just 1,340 individuals enrolled.
Today, HealthAccess is serving approximately 1,600 individuals. But the path to recovery post-pandemic has only just begun.
The power of integrated partnerships
If a patient has non-medical needs, which most do, HealthAccess refers them to the LINK Partnership program, which is funded by the Topeka Community Foundation. Once HealthAccess connects an individual to LINK Partnership, they will be supported with direct assistance from a Community Support Navigator from Valeo Behavioral Health.
Whatever the needs of the individuals, they will be met through expert coordination. If an individual has diabetes, for example, HealthAccess and LINK Partnership can help ensure that they’re matched with a nutritionist, with a nursing student, and food benefits, among other services.
Care coordination is personalized
For one individual, being involved in the LINK Partnership made a life-changing difference. After one Topeka resident underwent a medical screening, results later revealed a return of cancer cells. The problem is that resident's phone had been turned off and the clinical staff couldn’t notify her of the diagnosis.
Instead of abandoning their efforts, the staff noted her enrollment in the LINK Partnership and saw that she had been connected to other organizations in the area. They called the partner organizations and received a home address and went to her house to deliver the news. A follow-up appointment was scheduled for the next day to discuss next steps.
Without these established relationships and the willingness to stay connected, this outcome wouldn’t have been possible. Unfortunately, it’s taken a crisis for many of us to realize the importance of social services and community partnerships.
Looking at health outside of the medical system, Skaggs said, is essential.
Community needs are addressed in real time
The most critical issue at the moment, Skaggs has learned, is housing. Food insecurity, food literacy, behavioral health, and substance use are among the highest-priority issues as well, but housing is the most prevalent.
Nearly all individuals sent to the LINK Partnership are housing insecure. And getting approval for housing assistance is no easy task.
“Even to apply for housing, individuals need an address,” Skaggs explains, so HealthAccess has worked with many individuals to secure PO boxes. They’ve also spent hours sending and receiving mail, as many have lacked computer access.
The pandemic, while devastating, caused Topeka organizations to join together in a way they hadn’t before. And now, they’re focusing on life post-pandemic. What happens when the federal eviction moratorium ends, for example? And the American Federal Relief funds run out?
HealthAccess and other Topeka organizations are working together to answer these pressing questions, knowing that many individuals may be evicted and are likely to face numerous compounding problems in the coming months.
Widening the reach to more community members
“There are so many people who aren’t aware of HealthAccess and all the resources available to them,” Skaggs says, and she hopes to change that.
Renewed for another two more years of funding, HealthAccess now has the capacity to nearly double the number of patients they can serve, but they need individuals to find the service–and use it. Working with Healthify, Skaggs aims to build meaningful referrals and make HealthAccess a more valued member of the community.
So many individuals won’t go to the doctor, Skaggs explains, because they’re uninsured and unable to afford screenings or treatments. HealthAccess doesn’t just provide these services free of charge, but they ensure non-medical needs are met–and in many cases, they help individuals get to a point where they can qualify for additional services, or have assistance applying for Medicaid, disability, or other programs and services.
Working with Healthify
At Healthify, our goal is to support organizations like HealthAccess so their services can be utilized and their community needs can be properly addressed–and maybe, just maybe, when social service networks become the norm, the binder can be ditched and replaced by something better; something much more sustainable.