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New Smoketown Clinic Wants To Go Beyond Primary Care

Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

In the former Presbyterian Community Center on South Hancock Street, there’s a big, open room that includes a kitchen, a reading area for kids and teens, a food pantry, big windows and space for a workout area. Looking at it, you wouldn’t know there was a medical office in the back, an intentional design feature of the new Smoketown Family Wellness Center.

The center, set for its grand opening on Saturday, is a mix between a traditional doctor’s office and a community center. It will offer pediatric care, cooking classes, diabetes prevention programs, a food pantry, exercise classes and mental health counseling.

“There’s nothing new in anything we’re doing,” said Dr. Charlotte Stites, a pediatrician and founder of the Smoketown Family Wellness Center. “What’s different is that we’re doing it in this community.”

The center’s vision builds off research that shows that an adults’ health is largely determined by what happens before the age of 18. Things like having a safe home, neighborhood, access to help in school, what food you eat and what health services are accessible shape the health conditions adults later develop. Those are all factors that the center aims to address.

“A child born in Smoketown can expect to live about 10 years below the average in our city. And this is crazy,” Stites said. “We believe that if families have the support that they need, the access to being ready for school to start, the access about healthy eating and the clinical care — all put together — we think we can add 10 years of life to a child that’s born here.”

On average, Smoketown residents die around age 70, compared to St. Matthews residents, who live to be around age 84. Smoketown also has one of the highest death rates in all of Louisville, including deaths from cancer, diabetes and heart disease, according to the Louisville Metro Health Equity report from 2014.

Timothy Findley Jr. is pastor of Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center in Smoketown. These health crises, he said, are often seen as only related to health.

“It’s more than that. It’s a social issue. It’s generational,” Findley said. “If you don’t have the community resources, the repercussions are felt in generations far removed from here and now.”

There are several goals the center has to achieve along the way in order to increase life expectancy for neighborhood residents, such as increasing the number of children who get vaccinations, decreasing emergency room visits and decreasing the number of kids with asthma who have asthma attacks. They’re doing this with money from the Humana Foundation specifically to start focusing on measuring patient outcomes.

“To show that the investment is not only better care, but long-term saves money so we can be part of the solution," Stites said.

And though there’s talk nationwide to pay for outcomes and provide more preventive care, health insurers and the government largely pay for services given to people who are sick.

Health care experts say this model — caring not only for a person's physical health but also their overall well-being — is what more providers should be doing. But Kish Cumi, the center’s executive director, said insurance companies don't yet reimburse for having all these services that are outside a typical office visit.

“When you talk about reimbursements in health care, you’re reimbursed for treating disease," said Cumi. "A lot of money is not driven toward prevention. That’s why our model is different. It’s not highly fundable, so a lot of people don’t engage in it.”

But Findley with Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center said the new Smoketown center is exactly what every disenfranchised community needs. He said the traditional doctor’s office doesn’t go far enough when the stakes are as high as dying 10 years earlier than those across town.

“It’s a factory mentality; they get them in and out. People get fed up with that,” Findley said. “This isn’t giving communities of color some unnecessary advantage; it’s the same resources we see in Prospect or in the eastern part of Louisville. Without those resources, we perpetuate the poverty.”

Funding for the Smoketown center, housed in the former Presbyterian Community Center, comes in part from a $100 million revitalization project for the entire building, in addition to foundation and private donors.

The Smoketown Family Wellness Center will open the pediatric clinic side in early May, but programs like cooking classes and exercise classes begin immediately.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.

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