The Bloom Party is helping fund affordable healthcare for KC’s low-income and LGBTQ community
Sixteen years ago, a group of generous, influential gay men in Kansas City decided they were tired of mourning the loss of friends dying from AIDS.
“They were like, ‘Let’s have a party and celebrate the good things going on in our community,’” says Doug Day, chief marketing and development officer for the KC CARE Health Center, which provides affordable healthcare and healthcare education to underserved community members.
KC CARE (which a year ago changed its name from Kansas City CARE Clinic and previously the Kansas City Free Health Clinic) was formed in Westport in the 1970s, after its founders noticed discrepancies in access to healthcare for low-income and LGBTQ patients. Its three locations — Midtown, Research Medical Center, and Northeast Independence — provide primary, behavioral, and oral care, as well as sexual health services and HIV care to patients, 70 percent of whom live below the federal poverty level.
It all costs money, which is where the Bloom Air party — held this year on April 13 at the Airline History Museum — comes in. The event raises around $300,000 annually.
“Grant funding we receive often comes with stipulations on how that money can be used,” says Mark Sawkin, a pharmacy practice resident with KC CARE and a co-chair on the Bloom Committee. “Bloom raises unrestricted funds to support services and resources for those patients to which they might otherwise not have access.”
KC CARE offers routine and free HIV and Hepatitis C screenings. And if someone is diagnosed with HIV, they immediately get put into a long-term care plan, which includes an outreach service professional who provides care, emotional support, information on how to share the news of their diagnosis, and connection with group therapy for the first 90 days after testing positive for HIV. That’s followed by long-term case management to help remind patients to take medications and get connected with the peer program. All of these services are accessible to patients of all incomes.
KC CARE’S needle exchange program is the only one of its kind in Missouri or Kansas, and one of only a few such programs in the entire Midwest. The program helps quell the spread of disease, especially HIV. KC CARE allows people to come into the health center and exchange used needles for clean ones in an anonymous, safe space. According to Day, KC CARE sees a high return rate of needles. In the last year, about 600,000 needles were distributed, 400,000 of which were returned.
“The positive side of it, for us, is that the needle exchange has been a significant point of access to health care for those who inject drugs,” says Day. “Many of our needle exchange clients don’t really know the other services that we provide it until they get here.”
Transgender services are also a specialty of KC CARE. Dr. Frances Grimstad, who specializes in trans care, has been volunteering with KC CARE the past two years to train staff on how to better support trans patients. In 2015, the U.S. Transgender Survey found that one in three transgender and gender nonbinary (TGNB) persons have experienced provider hostility. One in four have elected not to see a medical provider when they should have, for fear of discrimination. Dr. Grimstad trains providers on recognizing cultural biases and addressing the discrimination faced by TGNB persons within the health care sysem. This includes management of hormone therapy but also the use of correct pronouns and chosen names within the health care center. KC CARE now has five clinicians that provide gender-affirming hormone and primary care and connect patients with mental health and social support services.
“It is essential that a clinic that supports the LGBTQ community work toward reducing health disparities faced by the TGNB community,” Grimstad says. “Not only through providing gender-affirming hormone services, but wrap-around primary care, mental health, and social services — to dismantle the systems of oppression that lead to the traumatization of high rates of the community by the medical system.”
In July, KC CARE intends to open a fourth location, called Homeroom Health, at 30th Street and Troost Avenue. It’s a partnership with Cornerstones of Care that will provide pediatric services, trauma-informed care, and a community space for people up to the age of 24. The new location is one of many projects KC CARE hopes to highlight at Bloom.
“KC CARE embraces a diverse patient base, so we need to make sure that our party does that as well,” Day says. “The influence of the Kansas City gay community is still very evident in that party. I don’t want to be predictable, but it makes it a fabulous party.”
Bloom Air is this Saturday, April 13, from 8 p.m. – midnight, at the Airline History Museum (201 NW Lou Holland Drive).