Kansas City Physician Daphne Bascom Takes On YMCA Community Health Position

Aug 9, 2017

Dr. Daphne Bascom is the first physician on staff at a YMCA anywhere in the country. As senior vice president for community integrated health, she's leading the YMCA of Greater Kansas City into a new future.

"What we can do at the Y is help focus on prevention and help engage all of the services that are a part of our community," Bascom said in an interview with Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard.

The Y wants to improve public health outcomes by addressing the "social determinants" of health — the social and economic conditions that create barriers to care. 

"If you don't have transportation to go shopping to get healthy foods, or you don't have transportation to go to a medical appointment or to get to work, we may be able to help you engage with other community partners that can help solve that problem," Bascom says.

Doctor’s bag

Bascom said she's always wanted to work in the health arena.

"My parents told me that I wanted to be a physician since I was five," she says. "It's always been something I wanted to pursue ... dating back to getting a nurse's bag and doctor's bag when my brother and I were younger."

Bascom remembers switching her nurse's bag for her brother's doctor bag since he was the younger brother. 

"Taking care of people and helping people achieve their maximum potential has always been something I enjoy doing," she says. "[I had] strong parents who told me I can do anything I want to do regardless of my gender or race."

Encouraged by her parents, Bascom began exploring career options at a hospital in suburban Buffalo, New York, when she was still in high school.

She earned her Ph.D. in physiology from the University of Oxford in England before entering medical school at the University of Pittsburgh in 1991. She completed a residency in otolaryngology, which deals with the ear, nose and throat. In her surgical practice in Cleveland treating patients with head and neck cancer, Bascom saw the need for an integrated community health care model.

"There were patients sometimes that did not necessarily have the means to eat well when they left, or provide supplies that they needed for their post-surgical care," Bascom says. "Meeting them where they are was sometimes difficult because I had to understand how to make sure they were healthy and stayed healthy and were able to be survivors from the cancer they were recovering from."

Bascom's ideas about the importance of preventive interventions and partnering with patients were formed by her professional experience — and by a deeply personal one.

"I have a sister who died of an opioid overdose," she says. "That is real to me. That happened. Opioids have always been a problem. And opioid addiction is definitely a concern for this nation today, but watching how she navigated the health care system informed my experience today."

Bascom believes her sister could have been helped if there had been a system in place to share data among physicians and pharmacists.

"It helped me understand the need for a centralized way of monitoring prescription medications because she was an individual who went from physician to physician and so had multiple prescriptions," Bascom says.

Bascom eventually left her surgical practice in Cleveland and joined Cerner Corp., the electronic health technology giant based in Kansas City, to help develop software that provides a more holistic picture of patients. 

"Data is a way to aggregate information to help make informed decisions," Bascom said. "I'm a strong believer that aggregating that information in a meaningful way is going to be important to help us reduce the cost of care, [and] hopefully improve the health of our community."

Bascom worked for more than five years as a chief medical officer at Cerner before moving on to the Y. 

A chance to do something "fun"

While at Cerner, Bascom had served on the Y's board. She saw an opportunity to forge community partnerships and thought a new executive staff position created by Y executives would be fun.

"You have to follow your passions," Bascom says. "I still get to work with Cerner. I get to work with health care. I get to work with the Y and I get to bring in my passion. That's a rare opportunity." 

One of the initiatives Bascom helps direct at the Y is its diabetes prevention program — a project initially funded by a federal grant in 2012. The program helps people at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes change their diets and lose weight. 

"We partner closely with health care systems across the city," Bascom said. "Maybe you see a provider at Truman (Medical Centers). That provider identifies that you are at risk for developing diabetes and he will refer you to a program at the Y. We have trained lifestyle coaches that can meet you where you are and enroll you in an intensive lifestyle program to help you reduce your risk of going from pre-diabetes to diabetes."

Jennifer Tufts is an intern on KCUR's health desk.