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Across the country next week, tiny towns, major cities, and hundreds of communities in between, including Newtown, have an opportunity to recognize and celebrate their local public health centers and clinics.
These critical agencies like Newtown’s Kevin’s Community Center (KCC) are often the first line of defense or, in many cases, the last resort for individuals who find themselves without health insurance coverage, or with coverage so sparse or costly that they cannot avail themselves to other more conventional health care systems.
National Health Center Week (NHCW) runs August 13 to 19 with the goal of raising awareness about the mission and accomplishments of America’s health centers over the course of more than five decades.
In the case of Newtown, KCC has twice as much reason to celebrate after a 15-year journey that has taken the public clinic from the dusty confines of Canaan House on the Fairfield Hills Campus to temporary locations on Pecks Lane, and in somewhat cramped quarters in a medical/professional building on South Main Street to its new and permanent home at 25 Commerce Road.
During a tour provided recently to The Newtown Bee, founder Z. Michael Taweh, MD, Executive Director Michael Ronan, and Clinical Director Mary Nielson, DNP, APRN, revealed a number of plans for massive areas of their new building that are still in development.
While the new clinic offices have about the same sized and number of exam rooms, the facility is developing a medical resource library that will be open to the community, according to Ms Nielson.
“Community education is such an important part of what we’re trying to do here,” she said. “And this new space will give us plenty of room to expand on that — which has been our desire since we started.”
Mr Ronan, who was recently hired as the director, said KCC will also be offering select local nonprofits and partnering agencies room to hold activities and meetings, and part of the large undeveloped area of the new building will also be converted into a small nondenominational chapel.
“This new space is giving us a chance to look at what we’re doing and be sure we’re trying to serve every possible person we can,” he said. “We need to roll out an updated awareness campaign to be sure people know about us, what we can offer. If there is someone who can use our services, we want to make sure we reach them to let them know where we are and that we’re there for them.”
“I want to collaborate with other health care providers and the Newtown Health District to host programs like fall prevention screening for seniors, medication use and abuse education, even doing home disaster planning and programs of that nature,” Ms Nielson said.
Mr Ronan said the space is expandable for hands-on health care as well, if community need expands. Currently the clinic has a patient base of about 1,000, but
Ms Nielson said the facility could easily accommodate double that number.
“We have the space, we have the parking, we have the staff, no problem,” she said.
While KCC tends not to turn anyone away, the clinic tends to serve individuals within the jurisdiction of the local Health District — those from Newtown, Bridgewater, and Roxbury.
“We found that people who came here from outside that area often had other resources they could use,” Mr Ronan said. “We did open it up a bit a long time ago, but that really wasn’t our mission and our donors expressed that they hoped we would concentrate our services in Newtown. As the newly appointed executive director, it’s my job to begin expanding from beyond just clinical services. We’re taking a good look to be sure we’re not missing people, because I’m sure right now we are.”
A founding board member of KCC, Mr Ronan is a longtime Newtown resident with a history of service to local charitable organizations. He also maintains the positions of secretary and development coordinator at Jericho Partnership, a Danbury faith-based nonprofit social service organization focused on Danbury’s at-risk youth, adults, and homeless.
“This is a labor of love for all of us,” Mr Ronan said. “We are here to fill the gap of unmet medical needs.”
Mr Ronan earned a Bachelor of Science in business from the University of Connecticut and a Juris Doctor from Pace Law School. He worked for Perkin-Elmer Corporation in Danbury during the design, manufacturing, and build of the NASA Hubble Space Telescope, then practiced law in Connecticut for more than 20 years.
He attends St Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, in Yonkers, N.Y., studying toward a Master of Arts in theology. He is a candidate for ordination to the Order of Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, Diocese of Bridgeport.
He has served on numerous nonprofit and community boards over the course of his career, including Newtown Youth Services, Newtown Lions Club, and Samaritan Health Center pediatric clinic in Danbury. He and his wife Kathy have lived in Newtown for more than 30 years and are active parishioners of St Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, particularly in men’s and women’s ministries.
With the uncertain future of the Affordable Care Act, KCC may see that patient base double. But Mr Ronan said that since the ACA went into effect, and with an increase in employment and the provision of health care coverage to those newly employed, KCC’s patient population dipped somewhat over the past four years.
“It did go down a bit, but we still have 1,000 patient files,” he said. “We’ve been trying to keep a handle on health care as it’s been very tumultuous.”
“We have to wait and see what happens,” Ms Nielson added.
The clinic is on the verge of learning if it will serve as a location for Western Connecticut State University students in the school’s health services programs — particularly those pursuing careers in the mental health fields — to gather practical, hands-on experience.
Today, KCC’s top five concerns are tickborne diseases, hypertension, high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety/depression, and high cholesterol.
“We stay on top of the latest treatments and we do what needs to be done to respond to these and other cases,” Ms Nielson said. “We have occasionally seen those suffering with AIDS, various types of cancer. A lot of former patients with the most severe conditions have been accepted elsewhere thanks to the Affordable Care Act. So they are now where they should be, getting the kind of advanced care we were challenged to try and provide them. But we’re still doing screening and picking up an occasional case of breast cancer.”
The KCC support staff includes nurse practitioners, nurses, college interns, physicians, and administrative help.
Thanks To Donors
Dr Taweh said the new clinic could never have happened without the dedicated and long-term vision of its donors and funders. And KCC is ramping up a capital campaign now to complete a roof replacement ahead of expanding its remaining space for community outreach and collaborative programming.
“We’ve still got a few big projects ahead of us,” Mr Ronan said. The clinic is planning its next “Music, Merlot & Mums” wine tasting fundraiser for November 4, and welcomes any interested donors who might like to discuss naming rights for any of the as yet undeveloped part of the facility.
A grand opening event and several open houses are also being planned for the late summer and fall, Dr Taweh said.
One of the bright spots in America’s health care system, community health centers like KCC serve more than 25 million Americans, a number that continues to grow along with the demand for affordable primary care. They have compiled a significant record of success that includes:
*Producing $24 billion in annual health system savings;
*Reducing unnecessary hospitalizations and unnecessary visits to the emergency room;
*Treating patients for a fraction of the average cost of one emergency room visit;
*Maintaining patient satisfaction levels of nearly 100 percent;
*Serving more than one in six Medicaid beneficiaries for less than two percent of the national Medicaid budget.
According to a release from Connecticut-based First Choice Health Centers, public clinics like Newtown’s KCC not only prevent illness and foster wellness in the most challenging populations, they produce innovative solutions to the most pressing health care issues in their communities.
They reach beyond the walls of conventional medicine to address the factors that may cause sickness, such as lack of nutrition, mental illness, homelessness, and opioid addiction. Because of their long record of success in innovation, managing health care costs, and reducing chronic disease, health centers have a proud tradition of bipartisan support in Congress for continued federal funding.
KCC was established in 2002 to provide compassionate free health care to Newtown residents over the age of 18 who are uninsured or under-insured, and have limited financial resources. The clinic is open on Wednesdays between 1 and 5 pm.
Reach KCC at 203-426-0496. For more information on the center, visit kevinscommunitycenter.org.