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Smoketown Family Wellness Center celebrates five years providing pediatric health care

Children play with inflatable games at the five-year anniversary celebration for the Smoketown Family Wellness Center.
Sylvia Goodman
Children play with inflatable games at the five-year anniversary celebration for the Smoketown Family Wellness Center.

The nonprofit wellness center, which hopes to address health disparities and improve life expectancies in the historically Black neighborhood, continues to expand concierge medical care for those with Medicaid.

Outside the Smoketown Family Wellness Center, dozens of neighborhood residents gathered to celebrate the five year anniversary of the pediatric community health nonprofit. Kids and families watched youth performances, enjoyed free food and played with inflatable games.

The block party Saturday was a culmination of six years of planning and five years of operating for Dr. Charlotte Stites, one of two pediatricians at the center. Stites said she came up with the idea for the center to address the massive health disparities for people who live in certain Louisville neighborhoods.

“A child born in the Smoketown neighborhood is expected to live between 10 and 15 years less than a child born in St. Matthews,” Stites said. “And clinical care actually makes up only about a small portion of our health care.”

The rest, according to Stites, comes down to factors like healthy food, good education, income, environmental factors and transportation. Stites said her goal is to unite those resources under the center’s roof.

In the bottom floor of a mixed-income apartment building on Hancock Street, when patients walk into the center, they see a wall lined with books, a kitchen off to the side stocked with local organic produce and other healthy goods and growing columns filled with fresh herbs and greens.

The center holds cooking lessons for parents in the kitchen, hosted by other community organizations, and provides produce and other goods through organizations like Dare to Care food bank and New Roots, which runs the Louisville Fresh Stop Markets. Children are encouraged to peruse the library and take a free book at the end of their appointment.

Stites said she aims to provide Smoketown families, including those on Medicaid, with concierge medicine. That’s a usually exclusive form of care that includes 24/7 access to doctors and same-day appointments that aren’t rushed.

“[The American] health care system is volume-based. And there are lots and lots of wonderful providers, but their model requires them to see people very rapidly,” Stites said. “Very often, families with Medicaid, they need more care, more access and they deserve high-quality, good care.”

Stites said the center serves between 350 and 400 patients, but their target patient volume is 750. The typical doctor’s office serves roughly 2,000 patients, according to the American Association for Physician Leadership.

Another important element of their model is in their location: in the middle of Smoketown. Stites said historically underserved and especially Black communities have a lot of reasons to mistrust doctors.

“There's a lot of really good reasons for distrust, and we just work hard every day to try to build that and make sure people understand that what we want to do is support them and offer resources,” Stites said. “Some families know what to do, they just don't have the resources or the support system. Some families need more.”

The center hired a community health worker, Kendrea Young, this month to take its work even further — helping families who may be struggling with housing or transportation.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.