Health Outcomes Assembly brings together health, education, and nonprofit organizations to consider and strategize on health disparities

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

This was the question asked by 2n.d Annual Health Outcomes Assembly teleconference Aug. 26, hosted by the University of Kansas Health System and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

“We launched this important initiative last year to address the effects of health care disparities in marginalized communities,” explained Jerilyn McGee, DNP, vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion. “This year we’re focusing on health care disparities between counties and zip codes.”

Determining where discrepancies exist

Such small geographic areas offer a wealth of comparative data and determine not only where health challenges exist, but also the depth of the challenges. However, as one moderator pointed out, researchers should not focus on micro-elements of data without remembering that these zip codes are representative of the people who live in them.

“Zip codes are a great way to talk about data. But what we miss when we talk about zip codes are the people. People live in these neighborhoods and neighbors go door to door to have conversations about what matters to them,” said Matt Kleinman, program manager for the Wyandotte County Health Equity Task Force (HETF).

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

The HETF was developed by community activists, civic leaders and the county’s faith community with a boost from a KU Medical Center grant program called RADx-UP. The purpose of this grant was to increase vaccinations against COVID-19 in marginalized areas of the state. The task force’s goal has expanded to include other health issues facing underserved Wyandot County residents.

Recommendations from the Governor’s Commission

Jerrihlyn McGee, DNP

During the teleconference, a team from Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s Commission on Racial Equity and Equity presented their goals and accomplishments regarding health disparities in Kansas. Shannon Portillo, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas, co-chairs the committee. She explained how the group was formed in 2020 as a result of the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd and racial injustice in the criminal justice system.

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

The efforts of the KU Medical Center

Faculty from the KU Medical Center and practicing physicians from the University of Kansas Health System also contributed to the Health Outcomes Assembly. Along with other participants in the assembly, they shed light on the history of health care disparities in our region and the promise of hope, collaboration 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 the KU School of Medicine, explained the REPAIR (REPations 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, and one is to educate the next generation about how racism is perpetuated in medicine.

“These legacies of racism that exist in our curriculum and in our teachings – get rid of them and replace them with a curriculum that aims to make our learners and our faculty and staff structurally competent in all the social and structural determinants of the health that we spoke here this morning,” Glenn said.

The efforts of many more clinicians and researchers concerned about health disparities were also outlined in the 2022 Health Outcomes Summit.

Abiodun Akinwuntan, Ph.D., MPH, MBA, dean of the KU School of Health Professions, emphasized the importance of KU Medical Center and the health system to the health care disparity problem.

“As an academic institution that trains the majority of health care providers 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 all around us,” he said. “When they become practitioners, they don’t become distributors of the same problem, but rather a positive solution in a positive direction.”

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