KANSAS CITY, Ks. – A broad effort to improve the health of Wyandotte County residents is getting underway.
Joe Reardon, mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, called for the creation of a health task force last year, in response to a study ranking Wyandotte as the least healthy county in all of Kansas.
The 20-member group has now developed several priorities, which include city infrastructure, availability of healthy foods, education, and access to health services. Members are in the process of gathering community input and developing long-term plans by the end of the year for tackling the issues.
Piper School District Superintendent Steve Adams is on the task force. He says addressing the county's high child poverty and low high school graduation rates are key.
"So many of our people are fighting obstacles associated with poor health," says Adams. "And in my mind, it all ties back to education either directly or indirectly. And so having these harder conversations is really important. And we'll collectively make progress. I think we're already making progress."
One of the task force's first projects involves looking at ways future casino gaming revenue could be used to help improve the region's health. The group is developing a specific proposal that would use the money to fund high school graduation and college incentive programs. The casino, located by the speedway, opens next year. Its contract sets aside 1 percent of annual revenue - about $2 million - to specifically fund charity programs in the county, as determined by the Wyandotte board of commissioners.
During last week's meeting, task force member and Wyandotte commissioner Mark Holland also said some county health issues, like having a completely pedestrian and bicycle friendly environment, will take years to establish. But he said initiatives the group develops now can have lasting impacts.
"We need to start now," Holland said.
Holland said the group has already made some headway; last month, the Unified Government adopted a policy recommended by the health task force, which takes pedestrians and bicycle-riders into account when planning new street projects.
Funding for health care coverage on KCUR has been provided by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.
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