Kenny McMorris, Chief Executive Officer of the Charles Drew Health Center, Inc. and his staff at North Omaha’s Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) have led the way with the community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Charles Drew is one of the longest running test sites which has facilitated over 11,000 tests since COVID-19 started impacting the state of Nebraska. McMorris has consistently pushed to increase the number of tests, masks, health services and to make other resources more available in the community. He is now partnering with others to plan for and implement the vaccination strategy.
Charles Drew has partnered with other FQHCs across the state and country to make sure urban and rural communities have the quality health care they need during this time. Charles Drew is serving an increasingly racially and ethnically diverse population of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian, Sudanese, Somalian, Native Americans and others in North Omaha.
Charles Drew offers a full range of comprehensive primary health services including: medical dental, behavioral health, and pharmacy. The team also facilitates community services, including enrollment for health insurance and Medicaid, improving access to healthy foods and other supports that address the Social Determinants of Health.
Across the country, African-Americans and people of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, partly because of conditions and disparities that existed well before the pandemic started to wreak havoc. Research shows those with pre-existing conditions and morbidity issues have greater risks of serious illness or death because of the Coronavirus.
African-Americans suffer from elevated levels of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other diseases that make them prone to the severe impacts of COVID-19. While there are debates about what causes African-Americans to have higher incidents of these diseases, national reports show that poverty, systemic racism and longstanding economic issues have served as a major driver of these health inequities..
Some will argue African-Americans create their own health issues. Yes, personal behavior has a role, but 80% of health outcomes have been tied to social determinants which include education, employment, housing and access to healthy foods.
The pandemic has shined the light on the fact that African-Americans still live in heavily segregated, under resourced neighborhoods which have higher rates of unemployment, poverty, underfunded and poorer performing schools, dilapidated and unhealthy homes and areas considered to be food deserts when it comes to health foods.
Charles Drew was created to address many of these concerns related to improving access to quality health care and partnering with others to also make fresh fruits and vegetables available in the neighborhood.
McMorris has consistently championed the need for residents to have a primary health home.
“We cannot emphasize enough how important it is for everyone in our community to have a primary health home, a primary medical doctor,” said McMorris.
“The conditions in which people live, learn and work contribute to their health. These conditions, over time lead to different levels of health risks, needs and outcomes among some racial and ethnic groups. In a public health emergency such as COVID-19, these conditions can also isolate people from the resources they need to prepare for and respond to an outbreak.”
“Charles Drew continues to serve with distinction and dedication. Kenny McMorris has really been on top of getting the community the latest information. In these very difficult days this community stalwart has stood tall,” said Ben Gray, City Councilman
McMorris consistently reminds leaders and elected officials that the community cannot just host events and serve people in the ER or urgent care.
“We need to know what caused them to get there and we need to provide services to help prevent the cycle from being repeated,” said McMorris. “We need to address the underlying issues by being proactive.”
As the community continues with COVID-19 testing, Charles Drew is also in a leadership position with helping to administer the vaccine. Charles Drew is coordinating with Douglas County and the state of Nebraska to expand locations to make the vaccine more available as the different phases are announced and implemented.
McMorris has worked directly with Dr. Adi Pour, Douglas County Health Director, and Dannette Smith, CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, to keep the needs of North Omaha residents at the forefront.
He’s also actively participated in meetings with Councilman Ben Gray, Commissioner Chris Rodgers, State Senator Justin Wayne, Governor Pete Ricketts and other elected officials to present strategies and solutions to help prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“Charles Drew plays an important role as the Health Care compass for North Omaha and the underserved at large. Kenny’s leadership during the pandemic cannot be underestimated. He is an authentic voice with North Omaha roots that the community can trust. “said Douglas County Commissioner Chris Rodgers, who is also the Chair of the Board of Health.
McMorris and Larry Duncan, Director of Behavioral Health Services at Charles Drew, have partnered with the Empowerment Network and dozens of other community organizations on the Healthy Village Collaborative funded by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services through CARES funding. The collaborative has helped to connect residents in North Omaha with food, health services, job training, and housing during the pandemic.
McMorris and other team members, Aja Anderson and Maurtice Ivy, are active members of the North Omaha COVID-19 Task Force. Anderson has helped to lead efforts with testing and distribution of masks while Ivy has served a leading role with getting residents enrolled in the expanded Medicaid program.
Charles Drew team members have also served on numerous committees across the region and state, playing a critical role with meeting the needs of clients and the community. Dr. Cheryl Logan, superintendent of Omaha Public Schools, has counted on Charles Drew in many ways before and during the pandemic.
“Kenny and his team have gone above and beyond to assist OPS, our children and families with testing and quality health services throughout this crisis,” said Logan.
Charles Drew is dedicated to providing quality comprehensive health care in a manner that acknowledges the dignity of the individual, the strength of the family, and the supportive network of the community.
“As board chairman for Charles Drew Health Center Board of Directors I’m extremely proud of the leadership of Mr. Kenny McMorris and the service provided by the members of the organization,” said John Ewing, Jr., Douglas County Treasurer. “This amazing team provided accurate health information to the community, became a major provider of testing and partnered with the Omaha Public Schools for testing to keep the staff and students healthy. They will be a leader in the vaccination process as well. They are a trusted source of healthcare in our community.”
To connect with Charles Drew, please go to their website: charlesdrew.com
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Charles Drew Health Center is also a partner with the Healthy Village Collaborative.
Get connected to vitally important resources through the Empowerment Network’s Healthy Village Collaborative. You can find links to food, housing support, health care, jobs, job training and more here.
Ted Lampkin: Rising to Meet the Challenge
Charles Drew Health Center
Growing up down the street from Charles Drew Health Center, Inc., it was no question for Ted Lampkin to give back to the community that helped raise him.
“I’m passionate about public health because I am a product of public health services. Coming up, my family and I used the services at Charles Drew.”
As the Associate Director of Behavioral Health Services, Ted has been on the front-line teaching and training team members in new approaches to behavioral health. It’s no surprise that when COVID-19 struck, Ted was front and center.
“My role was to help transition the Behavioral Health department from doing face-to-face therapy to telehealth therapy.”
While COVID-19 began to escalate, increasing evidence highlighted racial and ethnic minority groups are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
“We made it easy for the patients, providing traditional face-to-face, telehealth, and when needed telephonic sessions. A lot of patients had anxiety about COVID-19 and being in the middle of a pandemic, in addition to their other stressers.”
“The benefit of telehealth is we can continue to provide quality service during a pandemic. You take out the barriers to care with telehealth.”
Brenda Avant: Providing Quality Healthcare in the Midst of COVID-19
Charles Drew Health Center
As a North Omaha native, Family Nurse Practitioner, Brenda Avant, understands educating her patients about their healthcare choices is a foundational principle to accessing safe and quality healthcare.
When the pandemic shut down Omaha metro schools, Brenda and the team members at Charles Drew Health Center, Inc. School-based Health Centers had to switch gears. While still providing in-person care, the SBHC Medical providers began utilizing telehealth to remain in contact with their patients.
“The telehealth program at Charles Drew really grew at that time. As Medical providers, we were able to continue serving our student patients through telehealth. The parents really enjoyed it because they felt even through a pandemic their child’s provider is still in tune with their needs.”
As the pandemic surged, the healthcare inequalities within the American health system began to come to the foreground. “It made me proud to see that Charles Drew was a front runner in COVID-19. The community was looking to us to help guide them through.”
“Charles Drew made it very easy for the population we serve to continue receiving care. We may be small, but we are mighty.”
Larry Duncan: Resiliency in the Face of a Crisis
Charles Drew Health Center
Hailing from the south side of Chicago, Larry Duncan, Director of Behavioral Health Services at Charles Drew Health Center, Inc. has always had a passion for helping others. “My passion, at first, started off with a drug and alcohol emphasis based on my own experiences and knowledge. As I grew and received more education, mental health became the next umbrella. It rests with my understanding that there are unique issues that affect black and brown people, and people who are marginalized.”
Within the first year serving at Charles Drew, Larry faced his biggest challenge yet, leading a team while in the mists of coronavirus. “The number one thing we did quickly was become active.” As COVID-19 began to highlight the care gaps within marginalized communities, the Behavioral Health team at Charles Drew looked to bridge those gaps within the community.
“For our population it was a dual threat. On one side of the coin, the crisis becomes an additional stress to a population of people who already live with stress. On the flip side of the coin, the lack of community and social interaction increased depression, anxiety, and a sense of hopelessness.”
The message was simple, but practical: Practice the Five Cs–Connection, Commitment, Communion, Contain, and Continue.
Looking back, one of the greatest strengths of Charles Drew, in Larry’s eyes, was the ability to remain active. While most were waiting, frozen in their activity, Charles Drew advanced forward.
“We got better and better at it. We were doing testing on the front line when testing was just starting. As masks began to be required, we were handing them out to the community members in need. Whatever needed to be done in the face of this virus, we did it.”