‘Safety net’ certified

Dr. Nancy Mikhaeel takes position as first full-time medical director of Caritas Clinics


by John Shultz
Special to The Leaven

Pursuing a personal commitment to help those less fortunate that dates back to her school days, Nancy Mikhaeel has earned some estimable titles over her professional life. Doctor. Caregiver. Leader.

Now, add another honorarium to that illustrious list: trailblazer.

This fall, Mikhaeel accepted a position that hadn’t really existed before: full-time medical director of the local “safety net” Caritas Clinics — Saint Vincent Clinic in Leavenworth and Duchesne Clinic in Kansas City, Kan.

“She brings a commitment to serving the underserved,” said Amy Falk, executive director of Caritas. “She had experience in this kind of clinic and in this kind of environment.

“And she jumped right in.”

What Mikhaeel’s jumped into is an operation with limited resources and a seemingly ever-burgeoning patient base.

Demand for the clinics’ services, after all, drove the decision to turn what had previously existed as a part-time and volunteer position into a paid, full-time post.

As safety net operations, the Caritas clinics provide primary health care services to low-income, uninsured residents. And from 2009 to 2010, the clinics saw a 20 percent jump in the number of new patients seeking care. That meant the clinic served over 3,000 patients in 2010, or just about 65 a day.

“This is a thing I like to do,” said Mikhaeel. “I have experience working in a safety net clinic — working with the uninsured and those with very little resources. And I did some of the same work in my mother country, Egypt.”

She continued doing similar work here, after moving to the United States in 1999. And prior to taking the post at Caritas in October, she worked in family medicine at the like-targeted Silver City Health Center in Kansas City, Kan.

Mikhaeel comes from a family of doctors. Her father and siblings are all doctors and, growing up, she never thought of doing anything else.

“Family medicine has always been very appealing to me,” she said. “It’s like you’re a mix of all specialties — a little bit of everything. You can see a parent, a child. You build a relationship with an entire family.”

She takes over an operation that relies on a handful of full-time nurse practitioners and a few dozen volunteer doctors — generalists and specialists of every stripe — to serve the clinics’ growing number of patients.

But Caritas has big plans.

In her new role, Mikhaeel will help work with staff and administration to have the clinics established as Certified Medical Homes. The medical home designation is one created by the recently passed health care reform act. Medical homes are patient-centered, Falk said.

“The patient is the center of the picture. This is where they get their care, and where their providers know them,” she said.

On top of that, Mikhaeel will be responsible for overseeing all facets of the medical end of the operation. And she’ll carry her own load of patients. Building a relationship with patients was one of the natural draws of the Caritas job for Mikhaeel, and she hopes to make her patients remember her.

Falk, for her part, is thrilled that Mikhaeel is on board.

“I think demand here will continue to grow,” she said. “Recruiting a physician or medical provider is a challenge anywhere, due to the workforce shortage. Getting someone so qualified who wants to work in a safety net setting is more so.

“Of course, our previous directors — volunteer and part time — are to be commended for all they’ve done.”

The challenges facing the clinics and Mikhaeel are predictable: resources — and the lack thereof.

“The lack of access to specialists is always a challenge,” said Mikhaeel. “There’s a waiting list to see our specialists, anywhere from two months to six months . . . up to a year.”

In her experience, that kind of shortage has sometimes meant watching patients suffer, she said.

“It can be very heartbreaking work,” said Mikhaeel. “It’s depressing a little bit. I didn’t expect in this country that I would see patients like this, patients with so few resources.

“I’ll see them, and I’ll say a little prayer. And I do anything that’s possible for me to do for them.”
Not that she’d trade it for anything.

“Everything has been pushing me to this job. For me, it’s a very rewarding experience,” said Mikhaeel.

“If you’re not there, they don’t have anyone else who can help,” she added. “You’re truly making a difference.”

About Caritas

“The clinics provide a wide range of services, including diagnosis and treatment of acute illnesses; ongoing management of chronic diseases; referrals for dental, optical and specialized medical care; and assistance with access to prescription medication for low-income, uninsured adult residents of Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties.”  (Source: Caritas Clinics)

To qualify for services, patients must have a household income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

Learn more at the website: www.caritasclinics.org.

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