Health Forward CEO announces regional partnership to promote health equity


Health Forward Foundation is on a mission to build inclusive healthy communities.

The foundation is a regional funder working to achieve health equity through its leadership, advocacy and resources. Earlier this year, Health Forward adopted a new purpose to support and build inclusive, powerful and healthy communities, characterized by racial equity and economically just systems.

“As a funder, we have the resources to work in partnership with the community to repair and rebuild systems and shape a region in which all can participate, where people who are working hard to make ends meet prosper, where people of color are free from the structural racism that creates disparate health outcomes, and where the conditions in rural communities don’t hinder their health,” said Qiana Thomason, president and CEO of Health Forward.

Health Forward officials believe that shaping community in this manner requires supporting whole-person care — a combination of care across disciplines that includes an individual’s needs for physical, behavioral, oral health and social care.

In addition to supporting direct care, Health Forward advocates for policies that improve health and is working to ensure people entering the health care industry look like, and understand the culture of, the people they are serving.

“Representation matters. We want to ensure that power is shared and proximity exists among people who look like the people experiencing adverse health outcomes,” Thomason said.

Health Forward centers equity in all aspects of the health ecosystem and supports innovative ideas that make the system more inclusive — ideas like the Kansas City Health Equity Learning and Action Network (LAN), a collaborative effort of more than 50 organizations and individuals working to improve health equity.

What is the LAN?

The Learning and Action Network is a project of Health Forward and the KC Health Collaborative, in partnership with Institute for Healthcare Improvement, initiated to help providers understand what health equity means and why equity is foundational to a culturally responsive health ecosystem.

The LAN includes community members with experience navigating leadership at all levels across the community health system, including:

  • Hospitals.
  • Health plans.
  • Health and behavioral health centers.
  • Community organizations.
  • Public health departments.
  • City and county government.

The LAN includes community members with experience navigating leadership at all levels across the community health system.

The LAN’s first learning community cohort began work in January 2022.

“Our community is hungry for this change, and we are seeing people prioritize it with their time,” Thomason said. “Engagement spans from clinicians and administrators, to CEOs, community health workers, public health professionals and caregivers — many of whom have lived experience with health inequity in clinical and community spaces. I have been inspired by the desire to show up, learn, and act together by all the participants.”

Organizations in the LAN are now pivoting to solutions, including:

  • Diversifying boards of directors with people of color.
  • Improving the collection of racial, ethnic and language data to identify and eliminate health disparities in health care settings.
  • Embedding anti-racism in internal practices and policies.
  • Pursuing culturally responsive health and behavioral health care services.
  • Creating pathways for students of color to pursue and advance in health careers.

The LAN’s first learning community cohort began work in January 2022.

What does health inequity look like?

LAN participants have heard firsthand stories from people who have said that there was no one to explain procedures to them in their native language, that providers were taught that people of different races don’t experience pain in the same way, and that providers just didn’t listen to their concerns. This inequity in health care came all for reasons these community members couldn’t change: their skin color, sexual orientation, language or religion.

According to the National Institute of Health research, Black Americans are systematically under treated for pain relative to white Americans. This is due in part to the false perception of non-Black medical providers that Black patients do not experience pain in the same way as white people, the institute said.

Thomason said immigrants, refugees and non-English speakers face similar obstacles. That’s why starting the network was so important to her.

How does Kansas City change the story?

Employers have a big role to play, Thomason said.

“Many people in Kansas City are insured by their employers, and those employers should pay attention, because inequity costs everyone money,” said Thomason.


To learn more about the Kansas City Health Equity Learning and Action Network, or to join the next cohort, go to

Health Forward supports and builds inclusive, powerful and healthy communities by prioritizing people who experience the greatest health injustice. We use leadership, advocacy and resources to support direct services and drive systems change to champion an equitable future that will serve us all.