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The Mission Is The Rock

While the 1970s might have been idyllic for some of us (the author was in junior high and high school and worried about dates, disco, and the right Gunne Sax dress for the occasion), many in our community and around the country were struggling. It was a time of political divisiveness (history has a way of repeating itself), anti-war sentiments, Watergate, and rock and roll, just to name a few. One of the issues making its way to the forefront was healthcare. Advances in healthcare such as the CAT scan and the MRI were popularized in the 1970s, but medicine was also becoming privatized and corporatized. The end result was the skyrocketing costs of healthcare that linger today. 

KC CARE was founded in 1971 as the Westport Free Health Clinic in the lobby of the Alcazar Hotel.

As in most areas, higher costs at the doctor’s office in Kansas City were met with less health coverage for less people – it just wasn’t affordable. Compromised populations, whether by economics or race, were not able to find suitable, affordable healthcare. The Westport Free Health Clinic opened its doors in the lobby of the Alcazar Hotel in Midtown in 1971 to meet the health needs of, “the elderly, students, veterans, and hippies living in the area.” Services were provided by volunteers with donated funds. 

In 1973, the city donated a house to be used by the Westport Free Health Clinic that came to include a dental chair for expanded dental services. During the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, the Clinic was the only anonymous AIDS counseling and testing site in western Missouri. In 1986, another move and a name change brought The Kansas City Free Health Clinic. By 1993, there was a staff of eight and some federal funding to create an expansion at 39th and Main Streets. The delivery of a system of HIV services continued to benchmark the work of the Free Clinic. By 1997, behavioral health services were added to the important list of programs and options for Kansas City residents. A successful $2.1 million campaign allowed the clinic to purchase the building for its current headquarters at 35th and Broadway. 

Founding Members were pictured on the porch of the first brick and mortar location, “The Old Stone House” at 40th and Baltimore. The house was donated to the Westport Free Health Clinic by the City of Kansas City in 1973.
1973: The check-in desk at “The Old Stone House” location
Outreach efforts in the early days of the Westport Free Health Clinic included fundraising and education.

With continued need from the community and continued expansion, the name was changed again in 2013, several expansions and additional locations were adopted since, and the organization is now KC CARE Health Center. 

KC CARE Health Center (or KC CARE for short) has a broad mission with a depth of programming and services. Its mission is this: “To promote health and wellness by providing quality care, access, research, and education to the underserved and all people in our community.” How they accomplish this mission is by respecting individual dignity, serving a diverse community, providing culturally competent quality care, working collaboratively with volunteers, cultivating partnerships in the community, adapting to the changing needs of the community, embracing health care innovation and research, educating the healthcare workforce, and maximizing financial resources. It is, at the same time, broad and deep. 

It seems as though the topic of healthcare and accessibility and affordability dominates the current news cycles every day. When asked if continued changes in legislation in the field of healthcare rocks the world of KC CARE, Doug Day, chief marketing and development officer, responded, “Our mission is our rock.” He went on to explain, “We use legislation as an opportunity… for our resources. We adapt to our community and its needs, and we adapt to what the government – at all levels – provides or requires.” We pushed a bit more regarding current legislation. “Medicaid expansion is great for our population, and it also provides some real challenges for us in the areas of services, staffing, capacity, and – parking!” Doug was clear to embrace the change, embrace the challenge, embrace what comes. “We have forged great relationships and partnerships in every aspect of healthcare, and we rely on those partnerships to help us respond. We are both government funded and funded through private donations – we are a grassroots organization.”

Homeroom Health is KC CARE’s pediatric location at 30th and Troost.
Children receive check-ups at Homeroom Health, KC CARE’s newest and fourth location.

Funding through private donors will take the form of a huge 50th anniversary celebration on October 30th at Loews Kansas City Hotel. Admittedly, it might be a hybrid event, but the hope is to have an epic party to champion the work they’ve done for 50 years serving the community, and herald a new plan for a new day in healthcare as they look forward 50 years. “Black-tie, stunning, and creative” were some of the words used to describe the event. More than anything, KC CARE wants to gather people together again. The collaborative fight against COVID-19 has been a daily demand for the staff, clients, and supporters of KC CARE. In a literal, figurative, and symbolic sense, they hope to blow the lid off of a party where people can see each other again, in person. That is, after all, what they are the best at doing; seeing people, in person. KC CARE sees our community as individuals with physical and mental health issues and crises, with or without insurance, with or without support systems. KC CARE has, indeed, become a rock, a beacon, a stronghold in our midst, in our Midtown. We salute KC CARE and healthcare professionals now, more than ever. We can’t wait to hear the wild rumpus at the festivities!

Clinical Staff Members Jackie, Ryan, Noah, and Allison
Michelle and Maria, KC CARE; were pictured at a COVID-19 testing pop-up location last summer.
Clinical Staff Members Lisa, Maisha, Alisa, and Jessica at a community outreach event in 2019.

By Anne Potter Russ
Also featured in the May 15, 2021 issue of The Independent

Anne Potter Russ

Anne is thrilled to be working with The Independent again, and even happier to be with some great people. Having served as editor from 2005 to 2009, it is a pleasure to be able to connect with the readers of this timeless magazine. Anne and her husband, Norbert, live in south Leawood, and have two grown kids, Diana and Nick, as well as two rambunctious dogs.

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