Health Outcomes Assembly brings together health care, education and non-profit organizations to reflect and strategize on health inequalities

Does everyone in Kansas have equal access to health care? And if not, how are these health disparities eliminated so that people living in the state can have healthier lives?

This was the question posed by 2nd Annual Health Outcomes Assembly, a conference call on August 26 hosted by the University of Kansas Health System and the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

“We initiated this important initiative last year to decompress the effects of health inequalities in marginalized communities,” explained Jerrihlyn McGee, DNP, Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “This year we will focus on health disparities between counties and postal codes.”

Identify where disparities exist

Such small geographic areas offer a wealth of comparative data and identify not only where health challenges exist, but also the depth of the challenges. However, as one moderator pointed out, researchers shouldn’t focus on the trace elements of the data without remembering that those postcodes are representative of the people who live within them.

“Postal codes are a great way to talk about data. But what we lack when it comes to CAP are people. People live in these neighborhoods and neighbors go door-to-door to converse about what matters to them, ”said Matt Kleinmann, program manager with the Wyandotte County Health Equity Task Force (HETF).

“I hope this is what emerges on our panel today: that the approach to improving health equity really happens in our neighborhoods,” he said.

HETF was developed by community activists, civic leaders, and the county religious community with the push of a KU Medical Center grant program called RADx-UP. The goal of that grant was to increase COVID-19 vaccinations in marginalized areas of the state. The task force’s scope has expanded to include other health issues facing underprivileged Wyandotte County residents.

Governor’s Commission Recommendations

Jerrihlyn McGee, DNP

During the conference call, a team from Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice presented their goals and findings regarding health disparities in Kansas. Shannon Portillo, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Public Affairs and Administration, is co-chair of the committee. He explained how the group was formed in 2020 in the wake of protests sparked by the death of George Floyd and racial injustice within the criminal justice system.

“(Governor Kelly) asked us to look not only at criminal justice reforms, but also at all systems in Kansas,” Portillo said. Over the past year, he pointed out, the commission has looked at the social determinants of health: factors such as economic stability, the quality of education, and access to health care that ultimately affect one’s health. The report of their recommendations is available on the governor’s website.

Efforts at KU Medical Center

KU Medical Center faculty members and University of Kansas health care professionals also contributed to the Health Outcomes Assembly. Together with the other participants in the assembly, they shed light on the history of health disparities in our region and the promise of hope, cooperation and funding to improve these disparities in the future.

Photo by Dr. Glenn
Jason Glenn, Ph.D.

For example, Jason E. Glenn, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine at KU School of Medicine, explained the REPAIR (REParations and Anti-Institutional Racism) project, an initiative used by the KU Medical Center as a framework for anti-racism efforts and curriculum development. The REPAIR project has four pillars, one is to educate the next generation on how racism has been perpetuated in medicine.

“Those legacies of racism that exist in our curriculum and teachings: get rid of them and replace them with a curriculum designed to make our students, our faculty and our staff structurally competent in all the social and structural determinants of health that we have talked here this morning, ”Glenn said.

The efforts of far more doctors and researchers concerned with health inequality were also outlined in the 2022 Health Outcomes Assembly.

Abiodun Akinwuntan, Ph.D., MPH, MBA, principal of the KU School of Health Professions, stressed the importance of the KU Medical Center and the health system for the issue of health inequality.

“As the academic institution that trains most of the health care workers in the state of Kansas, we should make it one of our obligations to train health care professionals who are sensitive to all of these issues around us,” he said. “When they become practitioners, they don’t become propagators of the same problem, but rather a positive solution in a positive direction.”

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