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A look back at 20 years of the KC CARE Clinic

Monday, August 31, 2015

After almost 20 years of dedicated service at the Kansas City CARE Clinic, Amber Cansler, our HIV Case Manager Program Manager is taking on her next big adventure. This fall she and her husband, Grant, will be moving to Ireland where he has received an opportunity through Cerner to lead the implementation of Electronic Medical Record systems at several hospitals throughout Ireland. We are excited to hear about their new experiences, but we will be sad to see Amber go!


Reflecting on her career at the Clinic, Amber shared the highlights of her time here. “I came to KC CARE as a practicum student. That was in 1996 when I was studying at the University of Kansas School of Social Work.” During her rotation she worked as an HIV Case Manager, and after graduation she continued working in that role full time, even as she returned to school in 1999 for her Master’s Degree.


Before long, Amber began supervising other Case Managers. During her 19 years at the Clinic, she has witnessed the immense growth of the program and services KC CARE offers its patients. She explains, “When I started there were three case managers and one supervisor who also had a caseload. Now there are 14 case managers, [including] five in Linkage to Care, which provides immediate, intensive case management for those who are newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, two family case managers, two youth case managers, and a resource and referral case manager.” Two co-managers oversee the program and its staff as KC CARE continues to expand its programs and services.


Amber played an important role not only in growing the case management program, but in building a RUSH-Link model that is recognized as a leader in the field. RUSH-Link includes Routine Universal Screening for HIV coupled with Linkage to Care services. In 2005-2006, KC CARE was one of 10 clinics in the nation selected to participate in a demonstration project with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), focusing on the Linkage to Care Program. Amber explained, “One of the most exciting parts of my time at the Clinic has been seeing our organization be nationally recognized as a leader in what we do. Our HIV Case Management Program is fully integrated with medical care, so all of our clients’ health needs are met seamlessly.  The Clinic utilizes support services to improve access to and retention in HIV primary care.  In doing so, our model has been recognized as best practices.  HRSA [Health Resources and Services Administration] invited us to share our experiences and programs, helping mold national recommendations related to multidisciplinary teams in HIV Care.  I am so proud of us for that work.” KC CARE is also nationally recognized for providing integrated care across disciplines and approaching health holistically, taking into account the many varied aspects of a person’s health, rather than treating only a disease.


Amber has many fond memories of partnerships with organizations like the CDC and HRSA and with other peer clinics across the country. She has represented the Clinic as a presenter and attendee at many conferences, to improve outcomes and share experiences and resources. Amber attended the International AIDS Conference in 2012. “It was only the second time this was hosted in the United States. I had the opportunity to see notable speakers from around the world and many U.S. Leaders and other world leaders supporting AIDS work including: Bill Clinton, Elton John, Kathleen Sibelius (whom I got to meet), Bill Gates, Laura Bush, and UNAIDS director Michel Sidibe,” she recalls. After a connection was made at another conference, Amber led the Clinic’s program to partner with New York State to develop its own Linkage to Care program.


Working in HIV Case Management has been a fulfilling and exciting opportunity for Amber, being part of the cutting edge development of new treatments, resources and services. As she describes it, “What excites me [about my work is] HIV is a relatively young disease in the context of epidemics.  The Clinic is able to be on the cutting edge of care and interventions to treat those affected by the epidemic.” What is more, she continues, “The Clinic is midsized, not huge, so there are fewer system barriers than one might find in large, multilayered organizations; you can be nimble… to address challenges, you can be creative, modify services, like Linkage to Care, to meet those needs. The only barrier is finding funding, but then you get to partner with grants and development. You pilot, document need for change, and fund the program.” Amber has particularly enjoyed this experience of being a part of this creative process from start to finish, as it is often not the case at other organizations.


Looking ahead, Amber is excited about her fast-approaching move to Ireland. While she will be sad to leave this familiar place and supportive people, she looks forward to new opportunities and experiences. She plans to continue in Social Work and Non-profit Management. “I’ve been talking to people at Trinity College, which is the largest social work body in Ireland. They have an exchange program with University of Kansas School of Social Work. I’d love to share what she learns about practices in Ireland with the Clinic!” On a separate note, she and her husband are excited about the opportunities to travel – you can get anywhere in Ireland by a 4-hour drive or scenic train ride!


We all wish Amber well and can’t wait to hear her stories and new adventures! Her positive attitude and magnetic energy will surely lead her to build great new relationships and partnerships in the years to come!


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