Our Healthy Kansas City East Side (OHKCE) was a community initiative led by the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) aimed at increasing the reach of COVID vaccinations and health services within vulnerable Kansas City communities. The project began in June of 2021, supported by $5 million in CARES Act funding from Jackson County. OHKCE targeted six zip codes in eastern Jackson County with severe health disparities and low vaccination rates, and developed an engagement strategy that leveraged a network of community partners to address vaccine hesitancy and provide health screenings to residents.

OHKCE’s approach was notable in that it did not merely strive to provide a temporary, one-time boost to vaccinations and health screenings. Instead, the project set out to create a community infrastructure that could support ongoing efforts to address health disparities within the metro area. The project team accomplished this by developing relationships with more than 60 organizations across four sectors: businesses, faith-based groups, neighborhood organizations, and youth groups. Leads at each community partner were paired with leads within UMKC to allow the OHKCE team to efficiently distribute information, resources, and support to each organization. Through the community partners, OHKCE recruited 160 community health liaisons to serve as boots on the ground support for handing out fliers, talking with their friends and family, and posting information on social media. 

OHKCE’s partner organizations also served as venues for 117 community vaccination and health screening events held over the course of the project. Overall, the project resulted in almost 13,000 vaccinations being given over a four month period. Most of the individuals getting vaccinated were women, and over half were Black or Hispanic. Analysis of the information collected about participants also revealed that most of the individuals served by the project were living in the zip codes being targeted. By February 2022, vaccination rates in those six zip codes were almost uniformly higher than the city-wide average, a particularly notable result given that most of those zip codes had started out with some of the lowest vaccination rates in the city. 

In addition to vaccinations, OHKCE also provided over 4,000 health screenings to individuals attending their community health events, including blood pressure checks, blood glucose screenings, dental assessments, mental health evaluations, and STI and HIV screenings. The team was able to accomplish this thanks to engagement by all four health professional schools at UMKC, University Health, the Black Health Care Coalition, and the UMKC Community Assessment Center. 

The OHKCE team also utilized community events to distribute a survey on COVID-19 beliefs and overall health and lifestyle behaviors. Almost 3,500 people were surveyed, providing valuable data to help UMKC understand the health challenges faced by vulnerable communities and in particular the social determinants affecting their health outcomes. The surveys found that almost 25% of people postponed medical care during the pandemic, 30% had been diagnosed with high blood pressure, and 20% had been diagnosed with depression. In 2022 the project team held a community forum to disseminate their findings to community partners and discuss follow-up strategies for increasing health access, improving trust in the medical system, and reducing the costs of care. 

Among the most important learnings from the project were the value of co-locating health services in community settings, the importance of health education and literacy in connecting people to medical services, the value of having health professionals available for community members to engage with and ask questions to alleviate their concerns, and the need to focus on lifestyle behaviors like nutrition and exercise. 

Recently, the OHKCE team was awarded an additional $5 million by the Jackson County legislature to support another three years of work. For this next phase, the project team plans to expand beyond vaccinations into preventive health services like cancer screenings, diabetes prevention programs, reproductive services, and infant mortality interventions, and extend their reach beyond the initial 6 targeted zip codes. Community events will highlight internet connectivity as a social determinant of health and emphasize applications like patient portals. The team also intends to focus greater attention on the youth population, the Spanish-speaking population, refugee populations, and the homeless. 

KC Digital Drive will be joining this next phase of the program to provide engagement on internet connectivity and to support the Diabetes Prevention Program which addresses one of the greatest health needs cited in the survey and Community Health Forum.

Dr. Jannette Berkley-Patton, professor in the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Medicine Biomedical and Health Informatics Department and director of the UMKC Community Health Research Group and UMKC Health Equity Institute, presented to the KC Digital Drive Health Innovation Team on January 25, 2023.

Further Reading

National Community Health Worker Awareness Week

It is estimated that only 10 – 20 percent of a person’s health status is related to direct medical care. The rest is taken up by what the World Health Organization says are the “conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.” Our social circumstances play the dominant role in how healthy we are.

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