That Wyandotte County is grappling with some major health issues is no secret. It’s ranked one of the least healthy regions in Kansas, and findings from a recent health assessment reaffirm the challenges:
- Almost 35 percent of children in the county live in poverty
- About one in four residents don’t have health insurance
- One in five adults report they don’t have a doctor
- One in ten babies is born with very low or low birth weight
- Statewide, the county accounts for one in five cases of gonorrhea, one in six cases of syphilis and one in ten cases of chlamydia
But over the last couple years, community members, researchers and local leaders have been working to improve the situation.
Mayor Joe Reardon spearheaded a taskforce that has been trying to come up with specific ways to make the county healthier. During his “state of government” speech this spring, Reardon announced a plan to open a new health and wellness center.
Vicki Collie-Akers and others with a KU health program, meanwhile, have spent the last year conducting regional health assessments and surveying residents to better understand the behaviors and factors contributing to the county’s low health status. Collie-Akers says the issues often depend on who you ask.
“You have segments of the population who think that access to health care is just fine, that in their personal experience they’re able to access it quite well,” says Collie-Acers. “And then you have another huge segment of the population that isn’t able to access health care in a meaningful way when they need it and how they need it, and certainly don’t even talk about preventative care. So I think that just highlights the big gap in health outcomes and health status for the community.”
Last week, Collie-Akers wrapped up the last of four public meetings focused on gathering community feedback on the project’s assessments and surveys.
“I always look at it as what do we have that we can make better,” says Lusia Requenes, a family specialist at Emerson Elementary School who attended last Wednesday’s meeting at Kansas City Kansas Community College.
Requenes says mental health and adult education resources are stretched thin in the county but could be boosted by better communication among nonprofit, county and community groups on what programs are out there for families.
Other attendees expressed a desire for safer parks, better sidewalks, more job opportunities and development initiatives focused in areas outside The Legends shopping area in the western part of the county.
But Linda Castle, a longtime resident of the county who works at the Family Conservancy, added that poor health isn’t just a problem in Wyandotte.
“It’s a national issue,” says Castle. “And the fact that there are not adequate places for people to go and get exercise, that contributes to it.”
Collie-Akers says the main goals of the project, funded by a two-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is to identify as a community what underlying issues are contributing to the county’s health problems and inequities, develop effective policies to address them, and do so in a way that residents, organizations and leaders of the county can mobilize around.
El Centro, a local social service agency, and the county’s health department are also involved in the project.
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