A look back on 2020


2020 was a year like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic, glaring health injustices for people of color, the economic downturn, racial unrest, and political polarization have all challenged our health, mental health, and livelihood.

Though Health Forward associates spent most of the year working from home, we still had a full year. In addition to funding 250 grantees a total of $22.7 million, here’s how we spent some of 2020:

Pandemic response

In mid-March, the arrival of the Covid-19 virus in the United States prompted stay-at-home orders the likes of which we have never witnessed. We, along with most of Kansas City, moved our operations to remote, and then we went to work evaluating funding needs that would naturally arise from the fallout of the pandemic. 

For our grantmaking, we converted current grants to general operating support to provide more spending flexibility for grantees, relaxed reporting guidelines, and reserved $3.7 million of our grantmaking budget for emergency support to our communities.

We advocated for policies in response to the pandemic that would directly include those most in need. We also joined in a regional response to help with contact tracing and testing, as well as supporting a recovery fund that will meet immediate and long-term health and household assistance needs. 

We also invited our community partners and grantees to share the measures they took to respond to the pandemic. You can read that series on our blog.

Medicaid expansion 

We continued our work of the last seven years advocating for expansion of Medicaid in Missouri and Kansas, albeit the focus this year was tinted by the correlation between expansion and health and economic recovery. 

Unlike previous years though, we secured a major win in Missouri on that front.

In 2019, we helped form Healthcare for Missouri and officially launched a campaign in early September to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot. Thanks to early planning, dedicated volunteers, and campaign efficiency, we gathered the required signatures before the lockdown to ensure that Medicaid expansion would be included on the ballot as an amendment.

We were elated by the August election results that demonstrated that voters agreed it was high time to expand Medicaid in Missouri. In 2021, we will focus on a smooth implementation of Medicaid for the state. 

We continue to work with groups in Kansas to expand Medicaid. 


Census data drives money, power, and truth. Information from the census is used to allocate more than $675 billion in federal funds for essential programs (money); apportion congressional seats and inform state legislative district boundaries (power); and provide the facts (truth) that inform infrastructure investments essential to opportunity and quality of life – such as schools and highways. 

However, the count has historically missed disproportionate numbers of people of color, immigrants, young children, low-income households, and others, resulting in a distorted picture of community needs; an unfair allocation of funds; and decreased racial equity, trust in government, and representation for people who exist within these demographics. 

Health Forward advanced community awareness and mobilization for the 2020 Census through several initiatives. Funding totaled more than $150,000 and supported: 

  • KC metro region Complete Count Committee that engaged community organizations in census outreach and education activities
  • Regional Census Equity Fund that provided grants for community partners that serve and are trusted by hard-to-count populations
  • Outreach in municipalities across Kansas

Health Forward’s 2020 Census leadership in the community extended to service on Missouri Governor Parson’s Complete Count Committee, numerous community presentations to raise awareness and call for action, and ongoing communication with community partners about census issues.

15th anniversary and new organizational direction

In September 2020, we hosted a virtual event to celebrate our 15th anniversary. During her keynote address, Qiana Thomason, Health Forward’s President and CEO, announced a new direction for Health Forward that will lead to greater health equity for the communities we serve. 


To achieve better health for all people is to strive for more just and equitable communities. We know that we can only achieve equity by acknowledging the institutions and structures that reinforce racial inequity. 

With a new direction that places greater emphasis on equity within our communities, Health Forward is beginning a journey toward building a foundation of trust, accountability, and intentionality in our daily operations. 

Our first and current focus is to attend to our internal culture to develop core competencies for advancing race equity by building on our strengths. 

Some of the early steps we’ve taken include

  • Launching an ad-hoc equity committee of the board 
  • Repositioning Brenda Calvin as the culture and inclusion officer 
  • Creating an internal culture and inclusion advisory group 
  • Conducting an intercultural proficiency assessment for Health Forward associates
  • Participating in racial equity workshops
  • Initiating an in-depth assessment of our policies and practices

All of these experiences are helping Health Forward build the foundation we need to fully integrate race equity practices into our culture, and model what we expect of our partners.

We will release more on our journey throughout 2021.

Celebrating new and current associates

In 2020, we added two new associates to the Health Forward family, including the third president/CEO of our organization. Qiana Thomason joined us shortly before the stay-at-home orders occurred, while McClain Bryant Macklin, director of policy and strategic initiatives, was hired during the summer when remote work was well underway. Despite the obstacles of adjusting to new roles remotely, they both immediately brought passion and energy to Health Forward.

We also celebrated notable anniversaries of associates who have been with Health Forward for many years. You can read about their time here in their blog posts:

Vaccine event

Ahead of the vaccination approval by the FDA, Health Forward hosted a virtual panel discussion between leading health experts about building trust around vaccines in our communities.

Panelists engaged in a robust conversation about the importance of vaccines and the challenges facing the COVID-19 vaccines under development. Among topics during the event, they explored the concerns from communities that have experienced health injustices, and solutions for advancing equity.

Policy agenda

We rounded off the year with the release of our 2021 | 2022 policy agendas. In a departure from past formats, we created two policy agendas that focus on individual policy priorities for Kansas and Missouri. 

Though we will approach with a strategy specifically tailored to each state, our goals for Kansas and Missouri are the same:

  1. Equitable access to high-quality health care
  2. Increase funding for, and improve administration of, public health funding and resources 
  3. Address social and political influencers of health that contribute to health injustices 

Looking forward

We approach this new year with a renewed vigor to serve and partner with our communities to provide health equity, power and resources; to create conditions in which everyone thrives and has a fair and just opportunity for health and economic well-being. While philanthropy is uniquely positioned to lead, we cannot do this alone. What we need now is the unique strengths of every sector working to join us in developing equitable opportunities that produce health.