On a bright, windy weekday morning at Thornton High School, 24-year-old health educator Claire Albrecht took a moment to commend the word of mouth that has made Kids First Health Care an important part of the lives of many students.
“We see that in the number of people who are returning to the clinic,” said Albrecht, who also hears it in a student group on physical and mental health that she leads. “It’s a safe place for students who can’t get care otherwise because they don’t have insurance or have other barriers.”
Those barriers could be language, legal or cultural, as with Spanish-speaking families or the growing number of Afghan refugees coming to the clinic, said Jessy Wulfekuhler, a pediatric nurse. And they’ve only grown since the pandemic began, making the nonprofit Kids First even more important to students who need basic checkups, dental care and immunizations, but also psychological support and other services.
“Typically, most visits are related to reproductive health,” Wulfekuhler said, noting that requests for birth control and testing for sexually transmitted infections are the most common. “But mental health support is growing fast — lots, lots, lots of mental health support.”
The eight to 10 students who drop by Thornton Clinic each day are just the tip of the iceberg, health experts say. A study conducted earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 44% of teens in the US say they feel “persistently sad or hopeless” — up from 37% before the pandemic. One in five say they have thought about suicide at least once Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Bypassing lengthy admissions and referral services to get children the help they need right away, Kids First Health Care, 44, coordinates with counselors and therapists and parents to support student health. They now count eight clinics in the north metro area, including five school clinics in Adams and Weld counties. They serve all students in all zip codes up to the age of 21, regardless of health insurance or ability to pay, and they even help families through Medicaid applications and other complicated paperwork.
“Kids can’t study and improve district test scores when dad just got deported, mom only speaks Spanish at home and they have six siblings,” Wulfekuhler said. “We’re all about breaking down barriers, so we don’t judge.”
Kids First, a recipient of funds from the Denver Post Foundation’s Season to Share campaign, is also waiving co-payments and deductibles to encourage more visits. They’re always growing and almost always hiring, said Breanna Deidel, fundraising and communications manager.
“So many services like this are extremely rushed and employee turnover is high,” Wulfekuhler said. “We attach great importance to providing space for comprehensive care. And despite all the challenges, we are very committed to keeping it that way.”
children first health care
Address: 7190 Colorado Blvd., Merchant City 80022
In operation since: 1978
Number of employees: 50
Annual budget: $4.8 million
Customers served: 4,086 patients and 9,656 visits in fiscal year 2021-22
The Denver Post Season To Share is the annual holiday fundraising campaign for The Denver Post and The Denver Post Community Foundation, a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, tax identification number 27-4328521. Grants are awarded to local nonprofit organizations that provide life-changing programs to help low-income children, families and individuals stabilize out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. Visit seasontoshare.com for more information.