For the Coachella Valley, it is a good thing that Dr. Christopher Foltz was on staff at Desert AIDS Project as the COVID-19 health crisis unfolded.
Already an integral member of the Infectious Disease team since 2017, he conceived the idea for a COVID-19 Triage Clinic at DAP and inspired a team of healthcare professionals to launch it successfully with him. He also managed validation testing for the antibody test, an important step to establish reliability, as clinicians everywhere grapple with unproven testing products.
As the crisis unfolds, he continues to innovate with his team to serve more people with options like drive-up services and asymptomatic testing. Within a few weeks of opening, the COVID-19 Triage Clinic had already saved lives, alleviated pressure on local emergency rooms, and helped calm frazzled nerves among patients.
But the physician credited with spearheading the operation started building his skillset long beforehand in Kansas City, heavily influenced by its community values and its learning institutions. It would require spending five years in L.A. first, but Dr. Foltz has come to find that he sees Kansas City emulated the most here in the Coachella Valley. He’s pleased with that.
Surprisingly similar: the Coachella Valley and Kansas City
For all of their geographical differences, Kansas City and the Coachella Valley are a lot alike if you are living in poverty, cut off from medical and behavioral healthcare, or other life essentials. Much of the populations live farther away from the city centers where services are offered. Issues like poor transportation, inadequate childcare, and problems with phone and internet access create unique barriers to access.
Many of the social determinants affecting both populations also remain the same. Higher instances of substance abuse and mental health issues create areas of need that are not commonly addressed in the traditional healthcare system. And a high population of undocumented and legal immigrants struggle to access services amid language and cultural barriers.
One of the silver linings no matter where he practices, according to Dr. Foltz, is the gratitude that most patients express when they receive competent medical care, some for the first time in their lives.
Feels like Kansas City right here in the Coachella Valley
Another similarity between Kansas City and the Coachella Valley is the feeling of a tight knit community, even though people are spread out.
“One of the things I attribute most to being from the Midwest is the sense of community and caring that was always around,” he said. “This is something I now feel very similarly in Palm Springs.”
After a three-year internal medicine residency at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center and a two-year infectious disease fellowship at UCLA, although thankful, Dr. Foltz felt anonymous in the second largest city in the U.S.
“In L.A., there was a sense of being a small fish in a big pond,” said Dr. Foltz. “In the Midwest it always seemed the opposite.”
“As a resident of Kansas City and a supporter of Desert AIDS Project, I am proud that a young doctor from KUMC is leading Palm Springs’ COVID-19 response at DAP,” said humanitarian and philanthropist Annette Bloch. “Kansas City and the Coachella Valley share a lot in common, most importantly people who care about one another.”
Dr. Foltz was made for this crisis—roots sprouted at JayDoc Free Clinic
Before he would go on to complete his Internal Medicine residency at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, and then an infectious disease fellowship at UCLA, his work ethic and skillset had been melded with the values of Midwest America—hard work, mixed with caring for your community.
Dr. Foltz knew his passion was serving those struggling with poverty, and he was able to hone his skillset at the JayDoc Free Clinic, located at the University of Kansas in Kansas City. Serving about 1,000 patients annually since its launch in 2003, it provides urgent and primary care to the underserved and uninsured populations of Greater Kansas City.
By the time he arrived on the West Coast, Dr. Foltz was already groomed to lead a clinic—not just the nuts-and-bolts operations, but as a strategic leader. He started at JayDoc as Assistant Director of Research and then served as an Executive Director. He went on to serve on its Board of Directors during his time in medical school at the University of Kansas.
According to him, Dr. Foltz gravitated to the field of Microbiology early in his college career, fascinated that such simple things like bacteria, fungi, and viruses could create such havoc on civilizations. As time went on, that fascination shifted to how the study of these simple organisms could lead to antibiotics and vaccines.
“That’s when I knew Infectious disease was going to be my specialty, because I could see in real time how this knowledge could make a difference,” he said.
JayDoc Free Clinic is completely Medical student managed and operated, and that’s no small fete. The leadership team were responsible for everything: grant writing, finances, administration, volunteers, and operations.
“It was truly rewarding, and that experience really cemented my desire to work on behalf of the underserved community.”
Dr. Foltz built his career excelling at direct patient care, but his practical experience at JayDoc gave him the unique skillset to conceive of DAP’s COVID-19 Triage Clinic, and then to oversee its opening and manage its current functioning. Combined with his clinical knowledge as a board-certified Infectious Disease physician, he is making a measurable difference in the lives of his patients, as well as his staff and the community.
And true to his Midwest roots, sharing credit with others comes naturally to him.
“I am just one member of an incredible team of clinical, administrative, and operational staff.”
Dr. Foltz himself is no stranger to gratitude.
“More than ever I am incredibly thankful for that background,” he said. “I am using all these skills in real-time as we study characteristics of SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 disease, Coronavirus testing, and potential therapeutics and prevention methods.”
A certain humanitarian is also part of that background.
When JayDoc Free Clinic would close down for the day, Dr. Foltz and his colleagues were permitted to see patients in the evenings at a very special community clinic, thanks to the generosity of its founder and lead physician, Dr. Sharon Lee.
“I got to work very close with her the two years I served administrative positions at JayDoc,” Dr. Foltz said. “Her work ethic and passion for her mission and community is something I still to this day try to aspire to.”
Southwest Boulevard Family Health Care was founded in 1989 by Dr. Sharon Lee to help alleviate suffering for people coping with HIV and AIDS. Just as with DAP, the great care provided became a staple in that community for everyone, and the clinic became a Federally Qualified Health Center.
“She was truly remarkable and one of the hardest working women in medicine I have ever met,”
Dr. Foltz said. “She would do anything to help us at the drop of a hat.”
Recently the FQHC was renamed Sharon Lee Family Health Care, in honor of its founder.