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Patients are treated to a gleaming new Samuel U. Rodgers health center

Consuelo Portillo has been going to the Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center for almost 29 years, but that was the

old

Sam Rodgers.

For the first time last week, Portillo and her 11-year-old daughter, Carmen, went to the

new

Sam Rodgers, a gleaming $25.1 million metal-and-glass building located just across the street from its former site.

“It’s beautiful,” Portillo marveled as she took in the two-story lobby, new furniture and the expanses of glass that filled the building with sunlight. “It’s so different, a lot more space. We needed it. The old building was the same as when I started going there.”

Tucked into a side street on the city’s Northeast area, the health center had been serving the area’s poor for more than 40 years. It was founded by the late Samuel U. Rodgers, a pioneer in the integration of medical facilities in Kansas City.

The new building at 825 Euclid Ave. opened to patients last week, even as hardhats were still busy on the finishing touches. Masking tape, ladders and wet paint signs were around every corner.

“I finally feel Dr. Sam has a building he can feel proud of,” said Dan Purdom, the center’s chief health officer.

“It conveys a level of respect for our patients. People walk in and feel that they are receiving care as they would anywhere else in the community.”

The former building dated to the 1970s. It had become difficult to maintain — the roof was prone to leaks, mats covered broken tile floors — or to adapt to new technologies.

And there wasn’t enough space to accommodate the center’s growing number of patients — more than 19,000 last year — or even to hire additional doctors. About 100 requests a week for appointments to the center’s adult medicine clinic were being denied.

The new building has 37 exam rooms, compared with the old building’s 27. Its 68,000 square feet will allow the center to see an additional 7,200 patients a year.

The old building will be torn down sometime this year, and a park dedicated to Rodgers will take its place.

A fortunate series of events made it possible for the center to put together the money for a new building, said the center’s chief executive officer, Hilda Fuentes.

In 2007, Missouri appropriated $60 million to the state’s safety net clinics for capital improvements. Samuel Rodgers received about $11.5 million.

The health center started a fundraising campaign that collected several million dollars more in grants from local businesses and foundations.

Then the Affordable Care Act put the center over the top. The health care overhaul legislation included funds for improvements to health centers serving the poor. Samuel Rodgers received $8.2 million.

“That completed our campaign,” Fuentes said. “We were so fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”

Fuentes said the health center already is hiring more medical staff. And it’s adapting its programs to qualify as a patient-centered medical home, which is an innovative approach that aims to improve the quality of health care while reducing costs.

It means providing patients with team coverage by doctors, nurses and health educators, offering same- or next-day appointments and utilizing electronic health records.

Most of the health center’s income comes from two government insurance programs, Medicaid and Medicare. Uninsured patients pay modest charges based on income; a patient making up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level can see a doctor and have tests and X-rays run for a flat $15 per visit.

Today, the health center sees a remarkably diverse range of patients. It serves as the local health intake facility for refugees. The clinics look like a mini-U.N., with interpreters for more than a dozen languages.

Sumitra Rai, 26, and her family have been visiting Sam Rodgers ever since they came to the U.S. from Bhutan five months ago.

“They help us every time,” Rai said.

Entering the center’s new building was a joyful experience for her.

“I was so happy when I came through the door,” Rai said. “I feel so proud to be here.”

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