By Max Goodwin
Federal regulations that expanded Medicaid during the pandemic ended last March, and during the summer, an estimated 81,000 Missourians stopped receiving coverage, about half of them children.
Swope Health, which cares for 40,000 patients throughout the metro area, is filling what gaps it can in the ways it has available. One way is to bring more services closer to the community. That’s what the new Swope Health Hickman Mills clinic plans to do when it opens as a ‘healthcare hub’ in December.
In a former retail strip situated between a gas station and an abandoned railroad track along 87th Street, Swope Health is building its new offices where there were once a couple of restaurants, a barber, and an insurance agency.
Swope Health opened the Hickman Mills clinic in 2016 on the second-floor offices of 8800 Blue Ridge Blvd.
“That building is frankly not suitable, and the residents of Hickman Mills deserve better,” said President and CEO of Swope Health Jeron Ravin. “The residents of South Kansas City deserve better. It was an older building.”
The new location at 6406 E 87th Street will become a center for most of the non-emergency health needs you can think of for people of all ages. It will be a ‘healthcare hub,’ as Ravin describes it, to address all health needs.
Last year, Swope Health acquired Tenney Pediatrics, directly across the street from what will be the new Swope Health Hickman Mills clinic. It’s now called Swope Health KidsCare Tenney Pediatrics. Across the street, there will be primary care, behavioral health, and women’s care.
“Cradle to grave is what we like to call it,” Ravin said. “The whole span of services that any kid or adult may need.”
For the first time, Swope Health Hickman Mills will also provide dental care for kids and adults at the new location.
The concept of a healthcare hub here began last year as Tenney Pediatrics was acquired. Dr. Jackie Tenney once worked for Swope Health before opening his own office. After years of being a trusted health provider in Hickman Mills, Dr. Tenney decided to retire and leave his practice in the care of Swope Health.
Swope Health is also exploring buying another building next to the new clinic location that Ravin says would provide services to the disabled population.
“I wish I could say that I was the genius behind it, but really, it happened organically,” Ravin said of the healthcare hub.
“Once we realized that we had a pediatric practice and a family medicine practice, we kind of thought about what else do we offer in this community that makes care accessible and convenient for the residents.”
The storefronts of the strip mall are being updated with new doors and windows. The parking lot is set to be repaved. At the same time as Swope Health builds the new facilities, employees call patients to warn them of the risk to Medicaid coverage as states verify their lists.
States were required to keep people on Medicaid during the pandemic under a relief package passed by Congress in March of 2020. That package assured the federal government would send states additional funding to keep people on Medicaid, a joint federal and state program that covers health costs for people who are low-income.
The number of uninsured people nationally reached an all-time low early last year due to the expansion of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program during the pandemic.
That federal regulation that expanded Medicaid ended in March. Health insurance is at risk for about 19,000 Medicaid recipients who receive care at Swope Health, as states can now remove people who verify the eligibility of Medicaid recipients. Reasons for losing Medicaid coverage can be as simple as a change of address without reporting it.
“Now, a number of patients that really need care are likely to go without,” Ravin said. “Every state is handling unwinding differently.”
Missouri’s number of Medicaid recipients swelled to about 1.5 million at its peak. Because of this, an article in the New York Times called the state “the proverbial canary in the coal mine” as the unwinding began. The article featured Swope Health prominently for their place in all of it.
Swope Health has an outreach and enrollment team of eight employees who check with patients whose Medicaid access is set to expire. They update their information if needed and ensure their health insurance is safe. It’s one part of what Swope Health does to make health care more accessible.
“Our job is to ensure that we remove the barriers that our patients are dealing with,” Ravin said.
“We’re really excited about adding more services and getting folks in a brand new facility they can be proud of.”