The Health Outcomes Assembly brings together health care, education and nonprofit organizations to reflect and strategize on health disparities

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

This was the question posed by 2n.d Annual Health Outcomes Assembly, an Aug. 26 teleconference 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 unpack the effects of health care disparities on marginalized communities,” explained Jerrihlyn McGee, DNP, vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion. “This year, we’re focusing on health disparities between counties and ZIP codes.”

Determining where disparities exist

Such small geographic areas provide a wealth of comparative data and show not only where health challenges exist, but also the depth of the challenges. However, as one moderator pointed out, researchers should not focus on the microelements of the data without remembering that those ZIP codes are representative of the people who live within them.

“ZIP codes are a great way to talk about data. But what we miss when we talk about ZIP codes are people. People live in these neighborhoods and neighbors go door to door to talk about what’s important to them,” said Matt Kleinmann, program manager with the Wyandotte County Health Equity Task Force (HETF).

“I hope that’s what comes out of our panel today: that the approach of improving health equity really happens in our neighborhoods,” he said.

HETF was developed by community activists, civic leaders and the county’s faith community with a push 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 scope has expanded to include other health issues facing poor Wyandotte 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 Justice presented their goals and accomplishments related to 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 created 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 at reforming all systems in Kansas,” Portillo said. In the past year, she said, the commission has examined the social determinants of health — factors such as economic stability, quality of education and access to health care that ultimately affect a person’s health. The report of their recommendations is available on the governor’s website.

Efforts at the KU Medical Center

Faculty from KU Medical Center and practitioners from the University of Kansas Health System also contributed to the Health Outcomes Assembly. Along with other assembly participants, they shed light on the history of health disparities in our region and the promise of hope, collaboration and funding to improve these disparities in the future.

Photo of Dr.  Glen
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 (Repairs and Anti-Institutional Racism) Project, an initiative that KU Medical Center used as framework for anti-racism efforts and curriculum development. Project REPAIR has four pillars and one is educating the next generation about how racism is perpetuated in medicine.

“Those legacies of racism that exist in our curriculum and in our teaching — let’s get rid of them and replace them with curriculum that aims to make our students, our faculty, and our staff structurally competent in all determinants social and structural health that we’ve talked about here this morning,” Glenn said.

The efforts of many other clinicians and researchers concerned with health inequity were also described at the 2022 Health Outcomes Assembly.

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

“As an academic institution that trains the majority of health care providers in the state of Kansas, we must 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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