Commission Working on Updating Decade-Old Health Disparities Report

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A dozen years ago, a task force here issued proposals for responding to what members called “a local health crisis for minority citizens.”

The report, released in April 2001 by the Mayor’s Minority Health Improvement Task Force, included dozens of recommendations for decreasing health disparities between whites and minorities.

To implement them, the mayor and the City Council established the Kansas City Health Commission. And now, the commission is updating that initial report.

There is an early draft of the follow-up report, but it may be late next year before it is completed, said Marty Galutia, strategic planning and quality officer for the Kansas City Health Department.

“I think it’s a little different perspective this time,” she said.

“Last time it was really looking at health indicators. This time they are really looking at those things that impact health … housing, schools, access to food. The draft report is going a lot of different directions at the moment.”

Members of the commission’s Health Equity Committee are exploring the different data it can use to measure progress in reducing inequities.

“There are a lot of different sources telling us what statistics we need to be looking at,” said Lora Lacey-Hahn, co-chair of the commission and the chair of the Health Equity Committee.

The list, she said, includes Healthy People 2020 published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Using census data, health department officials have broken down some socioeconomic indicators by race/ethnicity within the six City Council districts.

In the predominantly black District 3, for instance, the data says the number of unemployed blacks is four times larger than for unemployed whites. Blacks outnumber whites in the district two to one.

The committee also is looking to measure factors such as food security and the quality of roads, highways and bridges, according to the draft report.

Officials said the impetus for the update came from discussions that went into producing the city’s latest Community Health Improvement Plan two years ago.

Another factor was comments made by reviewers as part of the health department’s recent certification through the Public Health Accreditation Board.

In a separate, but related, effort, the health commission is also benchmarking itself against the latest version of the National Public Health Performance Standards put out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is the first time the commission has participated in the voluntary process since 2006, officials said.

Galutia said the performance of the community’s public health system would be assessed as part of the process and that the health department plans to convene a community-wide group of approximately 120 officials in a day-long session Nov. 15.

As for the health equity report, officials said, a primary goal is to produce a standard set of data that can track progress of the various initiatives taking place in the city.

“There are so many groups that are doing things,” Galutia said. “We don’t know how it’s being measured. So we are just trying to establish a baseline so we can see if what’s being done in Kansas City is making a difference.”

The initial report in 2001 highlighted problems, such as higher incidences of cancer and infant mortality among minorities, and proposed solutions, such as improving culturally competent care and removing barriers to access. Those problems remain matters of concern today.

Even so, Cathy Davis, a co-chair of the commission that produced the initial report, said the document made important contributions to community health.

“It really was a catalyst for a lot of things in the community,” said Davis, who is chief executive of the Kansas City Quality Improvement Consortium (KCQIC), a nonprofit aimed at encouraging use of best practices among the city’s health care providers.

Davis served several years as co-chair of the city health commission.

She said it concerned her that some of the problems highlighted in the initial report still exist, but that the document had encouraged various community organizations, such as churches, to focus on efforts to eliminate the disparities.

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