Jill Peltzer, RN, M.S., knows what makes a small-town health center thrive

March 27, 2012

By Bridget Koan

Jill Peltzer
KU School of Nursing doctoral student and clinical instructor Jill Peltzer, RN, M.S.

A downtrodden economy can spell disaster for safety net clinics. Unemployment often contributes to loss of health insurance, and more individuals seek health care services in clinics that are providing them for free or at reduced prices. Growing numbers of patients stress already overburdened safety net clinics, which struggle to provide high-quality care and break even.

One community health center in Pittsburg, a small recession-hit town in southeast Kansas, may be a model for how these clinics can survive and thrive while ensuring high-quality and affordable health care, according to research published by University of Kansas School of Nursing doctoral student and clinical instructor Jill Peltzer, RN, M.S.

"I sought to identify strategies that promoted the development and maintenance of a successful comprehensive community health center," Peltzer says. Instead of yielding specific strategies, Peltzer's research identified broader themes that set the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas (CHCSEK) on a trajectory for success. "I found strong administrative leadership was the key to ensuring sustainability and success of the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas."

In fewer than 10 years, CHCSEK grew from one room in a hospital to a free-standing center with four outreach clinics offering comprehensive health services to underserved community members.

Peltzer contributes much of that to the successful management style, something she calls Leading with Consideration in her paper, published in the January/February issue of Leadership in Health Services. The strategies used by the administrative staff at CHCSEK include holistic, comprehensive care initiatives that supported community cohesiveness and empowerment of individuals.

"I was really interested in learning about this community health center because they expanded in such a short period of time," Peltzer says.

"Leadership was the most important theme that emerged from the data, resulting in a workforce culture that upholds the mission of the Center, leadership that seeks to inspire the growth of both employees and clients," Peltzer says. "The theme of fostering individual growth defines a work culture that supports the Center employees and thus the clients."

Peltzer says Leading with Consideration also provides the framework for a sub-theme: Living the Mission. She says the community health center exhibits this theme by providing quality health care to everyone in the community regardless of their ability to pay.

"They really saw their purpose at the CHC as serving the community," Peltzer says.

The practical implications of Peltzer's study point to strong leadership, based on the organization's mission, as having a positive effect on the success of safety net clinics. It is also one of the first qualitative reports to describe concepts that support the development of a successful, sustainable community health center.

"Research has been conducted about safety net organizations, evaluating threats to the safety net, as well as barriers and facilitators to care within different types of safety net organizations. However, none of the studies explored strategies used by organizations to promote sustainability," says Peltzer. 

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