KC Health Collaborative joins the LAN to advance health equity in Kansas City


Most businesses, including health care organizations, respond to numbers and data, said Ron Whiting, executive director of KC Health Collaborative.

So first, some data.

And the disparities are not just driven by economic and social factors. The National Academy of Medicine has reported that “racial and ethnic minorities receive lower-quality health care than white people — even when insurance status, income, age and severity of conditions are comparable.”

There is no equality without equity. The Kansas City Health Equity Learning and Action Network (The LAN) was formed, and the KC Health Collaborative later joined the effort, because of the negative health effects of inequities on our community.

“The KC Health Collaborative works on issues that are high priorities and where no one entity can do the work on their own. Improving health and health care in Kansas City is a shared priority and requires cross-sector collaboration,” said Whiting. “Achieving needed improvements in our region’s health will require a focus on anti-racism and health equity.”

The LAN is a group of more than 50 participating organizations in the Kansas City region. Through the LAN, these organizations are learning about the impact of inequities and how they can be addressed through changes to systems, structures and practices.

The LAN is a group of more than 50 participating organizations in the Kansas City region.

“The LAN creates a sense of shared accountability among the participants to do more than talk. The LAN is about taking action,” Whiting said. The vision for the network began with the leadership of Health Forward Foundation, and the KC Health Collaborative signed on as the initiative’s project manager. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement was engaged to provide technical expertise as internationally recognized experts in health care quality.

KC Health Collaborative officials say for them, the goal is clear.

“We’re really focused on eliminating racism,” said Amber Smith, a project manager for the KC Health Collaborative.

‘No data without stories’

“We say no data without stories, because that’s the narrative,” Smith said. “You have to be reminded you’re working for people.”

She has her own health care concerns as a Black woman and mother. Imagine taking your child to the pediatrician and wondering if the doctor is hearing what you’re saying, she said. Imagine wondering if a provider is dismissing your concerns just because of the color of your skin. That’s what Smith grapples with when seeking medical care for her 8-year-old son. She wants better for him, and for all Kansas City area residents.

Whiting said it’s one thing to see the inequities in the data on paper, but hearing it from Kansas Citians in the network is a much more powerful — and sobering — experience.

“Some participants talk about how they experience the health care system in ways that as a white male I’m oblivious to, which to me is part of the problem,” he said.

A problem the LAN is working to fix. Whiting said the network really lives up to its name. It’s about learning what the issues are, it’s about taking action to eliminate structural and systemic racism across the health and health care ecosystem, and it’s about creating a community where people can come together, share the challenges and successes, and hold each other accountable for improving care and outcomes.

Moving forward, Whiting said the network’s success looks like health equity through an anti-racist lens being embedded in everything organizations do to ensure our systems and structures don’t propagate poor outcomes and inequity.

“I think ultimately it must come through in the data, that race is not a barrier to good health and quality health care,” he said. “That’s part of what drives me …. To produce the highest level of care, regardless of the color of your skin.”

How KC businesses can get involved

As the largest purchaser of health care, employers are in a powerful position to reshape the health outcomes of their employees.

As the largest purchaser of health care, employers are in a powerful position to reshape the health outcomes of their employees.

For starters, every Kansas City business should be asking questions about how their employees are impacted by racial inequities and systemic racism. They should be having conversations with the health plans, brokers and providers about how inequities are being identified and addressed, Whiting said.

And every employer should be thinking about how to ensure their own organizations are making anti-racism, equity and representation strategic priorities. Inequality and racism in health care have an outsized impact on business results, he said. This inequity has a cost to the company, and a human cost in our region, he said.

The more businesses who get involved with this work and efforts such as the Health Equity Learning and Action Network, the better for everyone in Kansas City.

“Even though this work is difficult, it’s needful, it’s impactful, it’s necessary, it’s timely and the work works when we all work together,” Smith said.