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Health Outcomes Assembly brings together health care, education and nonprofits to reflect and strategize on health disparities

The 2nd Annual Health Outcomes Assembly was titled "Disparities Between Counties and ZIP Codes”

Dr. Glenn with photo of slide text: Clinical Care Health Equity Index (HEI) A roadmap for equitable care (what health inequities are present in each clinical department) Health inequity literature-known racial inequities (pain management, Preventative screening, chronic disease management, prenatal and postpartum care) Multidisciplinary team (health equity researchers, medical informatics, clinical partners, institutional support, community voices),
Jason E. Glenn, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine at KU School of Medicine, shared a slide at the 2nd Annual Health Outcomes Assembly. The teleconference invited more than two dozen speakers to speak on health disparities in Kansas.

Does everyone in Kansas have the same access to health care? And if not, how can these health disparities be eliminated so that people living the state can have healthier lives?

That was the question posed by the 2nd Annual Health Outcomes Assembly, a teleconference on Aug. 26 hosted by The University of Kansas Health System and the Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Carol Ulloa, M.D., clinical professor of neurology at KU School of Medicine, approached leadership at the medical center and the health system with the idea of the assembly. “As I became more aware of health care disparities, I wanted to do more with my platform as a physician leader to impart change,” she said. “I felt that a conference aimed at this issue involving various disciplines, specialties and community partners would help educate and hopefully create some solutions.”

Jerrihlyn McGee, DNP, vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion, underlined the differences between the inaugural year and this year’s assembly. “We started this important initiative last year to unpack health care disparities’ effects in marginalized communities. This year, we’re focusing on health disparities between counties and ZIP codes,” she explained.

Pinpointing where disparities exist

Such small geographic areas offer a wealth of comparative data and pinpoint not only where health challenges exist but also the depth of the challenges. However, as one moderator pointed out, researchers should not focus on micro-elements of data without remembering that those ZIP codes are representative of the people who live within them.

“ZIP codes are a great way to talk about the data. But what we’re missing when we talk about ZIP codes are people. People live in these neighborhoods, and neighbors go door-to-door to have conversations about what matters to them,” said Matt Kleinmann, program manager with the Wyandotte County Health Equity Task Force (HETF).

“I hope that’s what comes through in our panel today: that the approach of improving health equity really does happen in our neighborhoods,” he said.

HETF was developed by community activists, civic leaders and the faith community of the county with a push from a KU Medical Center grant program called RADx-UP. That grant’s goal was to increase COVID-19 vaccinations in marginalized areas of the state. The task force’s purpose has expanded to include other health issues facing Wyandotte County’s underserved residents.

Recommendations from the governor’s commission

Photo of Dr. McGee
Jerrihlyn McGee, DNP

During the teleconference a team from Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice presented their goals and accomplishments regarding health disparities in Kansas. Shannon Portillo, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas, is co-chair of the commission. She explained how the group was established in 2020 in the wake of the protests spurred by the death of George Floyd and racial injustice within the criminal justice system.

“(Governor Kelly) asked us to look not just at criminal justice reforms but reforming all of the systems in Kansas,” Portillo said. For the last year, she indicated, the commission has been examining the social determinants of health – factors such as economic stability, quality of education and access to health care that ultimately affect one’s health. The report of their recommendations is available on the governor’s website.

Efforts at KU Medical Center

Faculty from KU Medical Center and practitioners from The University of Kansas Health System also contributed to the Health Outcomes Assembly. Along with the other assembly participants, they shed light on the history of health disparities in our region and the promise for hope, cooperation and funding to improve these disparities in the future.

Photo of Dr. Glenn
Jason Glenn, Ph.D.

For example, Jason E. Glenn, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine at KU School of Medicine, explained the REPAIR (REParations and Anti-Institutional Racism) Project, an initiative that KU Medical Center used as a framework for anti-racism efforts and curriculum development. The REPAIR Project has four pillars, and one is to educate the next generation on how racism has been perpetuated in medicine.

“Those legacies of racism that exist in our curriculum and in our teachings -- get rid of those and replace them with curriculum that is aimed at making our learners and our faculty and staff structurally competent in all the social and structural determinants of health that we've been talking about here this morning,” Glenn said.

The efforts many more clinicians and researchers concerned with health disparity also were outlined in the 2022 Health Outcomes Assembly.

Abiodun Akinwuntan, Ph.D., MPH, MBA, dean of KU School of Health Professions, stressed the importance of KU Medical Center and the health system to the issue of health disparity.

“As an academic institution that trains majority of the health care providers in the state of Kansas, we should make it one of our obligations to train health care professionals, who are sensitive to all these issues all around us,” he said. “When they become practitioners, they do not become propagators of the same problem, but rather a positive solution in a positive direction.”

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