Since the Affordable Care Act took effect, Wyandotte County has seen the number of its uninsured fall from 26 percent to 18 percent, one of the biggest drops in the country.
But it’s one thing to boast of boosting the ranks of the insured, another to steer them through a complicated and, at times, bewildering health care system.
With a $1.9 million grant from the United Health Foundation, announced today by county officials at the offices of the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County, the county is now in a better position to do that.
The grant will pay for seven community health workers and a supervisor to help residents navigate the complexities of the system and reduce barriers to care.
“It’s taking them through the process of, ‘O.K., you’ve got a health need, let me teach you how the system works, let me show you how to apply for your marketplace plan, or how to apply for Medicaid, or maybe there’s a job assistance program for you that helps you get the job that you need, which gets you access to health care,’” says Dennis Dunmyer, vice president of behavioral health and community programs at the Kansas City Care Clinic in Kansas City, Kansas.
The clinic, which serves patients with and without insurance, has partnered with the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County to train and oversee the community health workers, who are already meeting with mainly low-income, underserved residents.
Jerry Jones, executive director of the Community Health Council, says his organization sought the grant after the success of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act gave way to a realization that there was a lack of health literacy among the newly insured.
“And we just had an idea what it would look like to partner together to figure out how to make it as easy as possible for someone to find the health resources they need when they need it,” he says.
The Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, launched a community-wide effort to improve residents’ health after the county was ranked last in health outcomes among Kansas’ 105 counties in a 2009 survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The survey came as a shock to a community that was just beginning to experience a mini-economic boom with new commercial development on its western edge. It led to the creation of Healthy Communities Wyandotte, which aims to tackle the impediments to better health, including poverty, unemployment and transportation.
“I don’t like being last in overall health,” Unified Government Mayor Mark Holland told the gathering of dignitaries and health care workers after the grant was announced. “But I know for a fact that this community is putting our best foot forward with over 100 different organizations and literally over 1,000 people working hard to change health outcomes in Wyandotte County and change the social determinants of health.”
Holland said the two major obstacles to improving health in the county are children in poverty and unemployment. “And until we address those fundamental issues of poverty,” he said, “we’ll have a difficult time moving up in our rankings. But we will continue to address every opportunity that we have.”
Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies