Jeffrey Ellis knows how to bring people together.
Through his work as a lawyer representing health care agencies at Spencer Fane LLP, Ellis has built connections across the health care industry. But it is his work outside the law office as an advocate for the uninsured and those with health needs that has brought him recognition as the 2012 Citizen of the Year by United Community Services of Johnson County.
Specifically, it was Ellis’ work with the Health Partnership Clinic of Johnson County, which provides free medical and dental care to the poor at three clinics in Johnson County, that led United Community Services to choose him, said Karen Wulfkuhle, UCS executive director.
“He has had the longest connection to the health partnership clinics,” Wulfkuhle said.
Ellis, 68, of Lake Quivira, was pivotal in forming the partnership in the early 1990s. He saw the need for area doctors and hospitals to work together and brought people he had worked with as a health care lawyer together to form the partnership.
“It was sort of my idea to make this a partnership,” he said.
He recognized that hospitals would save money if patients were treated at free clinics rather than waiting to go to the emergency room. Ellis helped hospitals understand the benefits of free clinics.
“Doctors and hospitals saw an organized structure they could be involved with,” Ellis said. “We provided them with a vehicle to volunteer with.”
Ellis said the Health Partnership Clinic started with one little office at 95th Street and Antioch Road. Now Johnson County has three clinics and they offer dental care, unusual among free clinics.
Jason Wesco, the partnership’s CEO, said Ellis played a crucial role in bringing five hospitals in Johnson County together. The hospitals— Menorah Medical Center, Overland Park Regional Medical Center, Olathe Medical Center, St. Luke’s South Hospital and Shawnee Mission Medical Center — donate supplies, and their doctors volunteer at the clinics.
After spending a few years off the partnership’s board, Ellis returned from 2006 to 2011 to help the partnership become a federally qualified health center. Wesco said under that designation the clinics can remain not-for-profit, but they will have access to federal funding, which can be used improve malpractice insurance and expand care. He said the clinics see about 10,000 individuals a year about three times each. He expects that number to increase in the coming year.
Ellis also worked extensively with the Mid America Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. His motivation to get involved with MS advocacy came from his younger brother, Jim Ellis.
“He was diagnosed with MS at 25, in wheelchair by 30 and bedridden by 50,” Ellis said.
As a board member from 2000 to 2006, Ellis worked as an advocate for finding solutions for those with MS, said chapter president Kay Julian. Ellis used his understanding of government policies and laws to articulate the needs of MS patients to lawmakers. Just as he did with the Health Partnership, Ellis used his connections in the health care industry to build two affordable apartment complexes for people with disabilities, the Mid-America Commons in Kansas City, Kan. and the Melissa Anne Hanger Apartments in Topeka.
Ellis said that because people are often diagnosed with MS in their 20s, it isn’t appropriate to house them in nursing homes where the populations are older. He connected developers with experience with federally subsidized housing with local developers. He also worked to get federal funding for the project, which took about five years to complete. The two housing complexes opened in 2006.
He was also the president of the Johnson County United Way. During his time on the board he helped bring the five different United Ways in Kansas City metro area together as United Way of Greater Kansas City.
Ellis said he has a lot of respect for UCS and knows many of the previous recipients of the citizen of the year award.
“To be placed in the same category as them is a great honor,” he said.
In January Ellis will move to Pershing, Yoakley and Associates and work with health care providers in understanding the new health care laws.
“When you have the capability, background and knowledge,” he said, “you need to share that with community to make the community better.”