Together We Can Improve Community Health

Every other year The Community Advisory Committee, the supported organization of Health Forward, hosts a Health Forum to hear from community health directors and other health leaders about health issues facing their community.

More than 150 people attended our Tuesday event, where three panels of experts discussed both accomplishments and challenges around improving all facets of health care. The three panels coincided with our funding areas of healthy lifestyles and communities; mental health; and safety net health care.

We also announced the launch of, a new website that highlights data on health indicators in each of the six counties in the Health Forward service area. Beyond the data, organizations can research and share promising practices, an invaluable tool for health care agencies.

Though there were obvious challenges presented through their narratives, I was inspired by the many success stories from organizations trying to improve health in their communities.

Creating Healthier Communities

  • David Toland at Thrive Allen County spoke about the significant attitude changes toward healthy eating and active living in their rural county that has been plagued over the past century with unhealthy habits.
  • Larry Jones with the Independence Health Department talked about their “The Mile Starts Here” program that encourages one-mile walks throughout the city.
  • Tom Emerson with the Lafayette County Health Department shared how youth in Lafayette County are working together to discourage tobacco use.
  • Joe Connor with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/KCK spoke of the success they’ve had bringing public officials together to address health policy changes, including a recent allocation of $50,000 to provide water access for local community gardens.

Improving mental health prevention and treatment

  • Mel Fetter from Pathways introduced their work with schools on identifying and treating mental health problems at an early age, and the new focus on trauma-informed care.
  • Alan Flory from ReDiscover talked about their diversion program to get people with a mental illness out of emergency rooms and into case management programs, and of the success of the assertive case management program to identify “frequent fliers” of the health care system and get them into treatment.
  • Pete Zevenbergen with Wyandot Inc talked about the importance of collaboration and the trainings they are doing with police to help identify and get appropriate help for people with mental illness.
  • Barbara Mitchell from the Johnson County Health Department shared updates on an initiative that has nonprofits, providers and schools working together to increase mental health awareness and prevention through mental health first aid classes and other support groups for parents.

Improving access and quality of care

  • Sheri Wood from the KC Care Clinic shared their effort to use community health workers to link populations in need with a primary care provider to improve the quality of care.
  • Jerry Jones with the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County talked about Enroll Wyandotte, an effort designed to reach residents eligible for subsidized health insurance offered through the marketplace.
  • Tiffany Klassen from the Cass County Health Department and Connect Cass talked about the creation of an oral health clinic that has helped nearly 2,000 children receive oral health care.
  • Dr. Rex Archer with the Kansas City, Mo., Health Department also talked about the importance of collaboration and work being done to reduce health disparities.

While each panelist was there to represent an agency and community, what I heard was the importance of collaboration. Each agency does tremendous work, but they can’t, and don’t, do it alone. Solutions to improved health do not exist within one agency. It will take multi-sectoral solutions to make real, meaningful and sustainable health changes.

We thank all of those who participated on the 2013 Health Forum and applaud the work you are doing to eliminate barriers and promote quality health.

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