Our Story: How Health Forward responded to COVID-19


Back in May 2020, we asked our grantees and community partners to share with us how the pandemic impacted services and everyday operations. 

You responded magnificently. We heard how the pandemic produced some previously unimagined hurdles, but in a display of resiliency, you shared how you adjusted operations quickly to continue safely serving our communities.

The pandemic also changed us as an organization. In mid-March when stay-at-home orders began, we moved to remote work and went to work adjusting operations to meet the quickly mounting needs of our communities. 

In a matter of weeks, we had to address the following issues:

  • Grantmaking process
  • Emergency funding
  • Advocacy
  • Finance

Updates to our grantmaking process

We know that our partners – especially smaller organizations – have anywhere from one to three months of operating reserves on hand and are often restricted in their ability to use funds flexibly. 

With this in mind, our first priority was to provide advance payments for our current partners. We also converted all current grants to general operating support. The purpose was to ease the financial burden and create flexibility for organizations during an uncertain time. We know many of them used those funds to retain staff and to make up for lost revenues due to the decline in clients as individuals were reluctant to expose themselves to COVID-19.

In addition to addressing the financial shortfall, we also chose to relax our reporting requirements and eliminate interim reports. We allowed more flexibility for final reports and requests for extensions. 

Because grantees could convert their grants to general operating support, we anticipated some changes in their budgets regarding fund usage. We are currently communicating with our partners and working internally to adjust our reporting requirements to accommodate these changes.

While managing this process and implementing grant changes mid-stream has been a learning experience, we will be able to use the lessons we learned to inform future grantmaking practices at Health Forward. 

Emergency funding

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown sent the economy into a tailspin. To mitigate the resulting effects, Health Forward reserved $3.7 million of its 2020 grantmaking budget to help the region. In the graphic above you can see that significant funds went toward stabilizing the safety net system and community behavioral health centers; and supporting essential services. 

We also addressed the pandemic directly by supporting coordinated, regional contact tracing and testing and by partnering with corporate and philanthropic entities to support the Kansas City Regional COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, which meets immediate and long-term health and household assistance needs. 

Finance moves online

The pandemic prompted us to finally pivot from physical checks to an automated payment option. Setup was time-consuming; we had to work with hundreds of organizations to self-register on the payment system with their secure banking information in order for them to receive payments promptly.

The switch to electronic payments has been an action item for some time now, so in that regard, COVID-19 forced us to mark this off our list. 

Electronic payments then required implementing new internal workflows and remote approvals. We had to move our entire accounting system online to allow fast and acceptable connection to our entire accounting system and access to data as we worked remotely.   


The impact of COVID-19 is not felt equally across our region. As the virus ripped through our communities, it exposed deep inequities that determine whether people have necessary resources to be healthy. 

In order to achieve health equity, we need to know where we are and how far we are from our goal. That requires comprehensive data.

Health Forward and partners urged both Governor Laura Kelly in Kansas and Governor Mike Parson in Missouri to leverage their influence to ensure that all health institutions and public and private laboratories standardize, collect, and report to their respective health departments COVID-19 testing rates and results, contact tracing, hospitalization, and mortality rates – disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and ZIP code. 

We also continued advocacy around adequate funding of our public health infrastructure and to expand Medicaid in Kansas and Missouri. Increasing access to care was the smart thing to do from a health and economic perspective before the pandemic and is the obvious path forward in recovery.   

Looking ahead

If there is a bright side to the challenges we face, it is the opportunity to emerge anew. In 2021 and beyond, we can use the urgency of the pandemic to do more than recover. We have an opportunity to work together to advance prosperity for all. To create conditions in which everyone thrives and has a fair and just opportunity for health and economic well-being.

As we move forward, Health Forward is committed to exploring various paths at the nexus of health, economic well-being, and race equity. And while philanthropy is uniquely positioned to lead, we cannot do this alone. We ask individuals, other organizations, businesses, and government to join us in developing equitable, asset-building opportunities that produce health.

We are proud to be a part of this region. We have witnessed the resilience of our communities, and we know through shared commitments to equity, we will rise stronger together.