A look back at 2015: What we learned about the next Decade of Difference

For the past 18 months, Health Forward has been working on a project that examined how we’ve advanced health in our region over the past 10 years. The fruits of that labor is featured on our new website – Health ForwardDecadeofDifference.org.

While most of the report focuses on changes that have occurred, we also heard about health issues that may affect our region in the future. Below are some points raised by key stakeholders:


While we have seen great improvements in the fight against obesity in almost every demographic, the gains have not been as great in communities of color. We need to ensure that all voices are heard and that the experiences of the under-resourced communities are considered. To do that, we need to continue to work across sectors. Even those who currently work in the field, such as food retailers and health care providers, are perceived as less than fully engaged in the movement to improve nutrition and increase physical activity. On top of that, there is still a need to engage the business sector and civic leaders to a greater extent.

And while there has been increasing visibility and importance placed on local and healthy foods, the next step in that process is ensuring the supply of healthy foods meets the local demand.


We have made much progress in reducing exposure to secondhand smoke, but work still remains. Recently, advocates banned together to increase the legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 in Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas.

E-cigarettes represent a rapidly emerging and dangerous new avenue for nicotine addiction. Experts worry that individuals, particularly young people, see e-cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes. Ultimately, the Food and Drug Administration’s decisions regarding the regulation of e-cigarettes will help guide communities grappling with how best to address this issue.


Increasing access to care, at both the policy and programmatic levels, remains a primary objective. Ensuring funding for adult Medicaid dental coverage in Missouri and boosting Medicaid reimbursement rates for dental services in both states are important next steps. Expansion of dental outreach programs offered through community-based organizations is also vital.


Current knowledge in neuroscience and attachment theory suggests that early developmental years are critical and set the stage for person’s entire life. The regional community needs to increase its expertise in this area and strengthen approaches for reaching young children. In particular, the community lacks sufficient services for homeless youth, adolescents who age out of foster care and transition-aged youth (18-21) with mental illness.

In the Kansas City area, ongoing efforts to create a trauma-informed mental health community have enormous potential for improving care. Its influence should continue to expand across a variety of areas and programs.


The fight to expand Medicaid in both states is crucial to ensuring coverage for those who fall into the Medicaid gap (too poor for health insurance options on the Marketplace, but earn too much money for current Medicaid cutoffs). Closing this gap will be a huge victory for health care advocates and the uninsured.

Stakeholders were in large agreement about priorities for improving safety net care in years ahead. The emergence of patient-centered medical homes, coupled with the role of community health workers has created opportunities to increase knowledge surrounding current trends and best practices.

As part of an overall emphasis on treating the whole person, stakeholders also emphasized that providers, funders and government need to focus more on social determinants of health such as poverty, educational opportunities, employment, housing and income.


The need for bilingual and bicultural health providers remains a critical priority and will likely require continued workforce-related investments over the next decade.


It is important as we look at the next decade of difference to remember that it takes much more than money to achieve genuine progress. Only the combined efforts and commitment of many different stakeholders can move us forward.

For more information on our Decade of Difference, visit Health ForwardDecadeofDifference.org.

Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006