Crossing to Health: Overcoming The Health Divide In Neighboring Counties

Tanesha Horton and her newborn son, D'won, of Wyandotte County, Kansas, will likely face a much different health future than their counterparts in neighboring Johnson County.
Credit Alex Smith / KCUR

A male in Wyandotte County, Kansas, can expect to live about seven fewer years than a male in Johnson County, Kansas. A female in WyCo can expect to live nearly six fewer years than her JoCo counterpart. About 21 percent of residents of WyCo consider themselves to be in poor or fair health; fewer than one in 12 in JoCo do so.

Those are just a few of the many health disparities that sometimes make the side-by-side Kansas counties seem like different countries. In our “Crossing To Health” series, we explore that health divide and look at attempts to narrow the gap.

This project was undertaken as a project for the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism and the National Health Journalism Fellowship, programs of the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

At her home studio in Westwood, Kansas, yoga instructor Marilyn Pace leads a class of 5-to-8-year olds. With the help of songs, games and other kid-friendly teaching methods, she guides her small students through poses like the cobra, the triangle and the downward-facing dog.

Tatjana Alvegard takes her daughter, Kaya, to Pace’s classes regularly.

“I played sports when I was a kid, and I think it’s really important. It makes for a good, healthy adult if you learn discipline and you learn it’s good to take care of your body,” Alvegard says.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

On a Sunday morning, New Bethel Church in Kansas City, Kansas, comes alive with the sounds of worship as a full gospel choir and band bring hundreds of congregants to their feet.

At the center of the action, guitarist Clarence Taylor sits with his eyes lowered, strumming angelic-sounding chords. Taylor has a sound that would put a lot of hot-shot guitarists to shame, but he doesn’t claim the talent for himself. He says it’s a divine gift.

“I don’t know the notes,” Taylor says. “I can just pick it up. Sometimes it amazes me.”

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

For expectant parents like Melissa and Michael Funaro, the prospect of a new baby evokes a host of emotions.

“You have this thing inside of you growing, and him and I created it,” Melissa says. “So it’s like, what’s he gonna look like?”

For future mother Karina Rivera, pregnancy is exhilarating.

“Everything’s exciting,” she says. “Just buying baby clothes, buying diapers. Looking at the diapers, and they’re so tiny.”

Jamie and Laura McCamish say the wait for their baby is almost too much to bear.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

When Kelli was growing up in Olathe in the 1970s, it was a quiet, clean community boasting single-family homes and good schools. And with state laws prohibiting alcohol sales on Sundays, in grocery stores and by the glass, outsiders could have been forgiven if they found life there to be pretty straight-laced.

“You just never know what goes on behind closed doors,” says Kelli, who asked that her last name not be used.

Monte Gross

Take a Saturday morning bike ride along the Kansas side of the state line and you’ll see plenty of people playing tennis, soccer and jogging in Johnson County. Ride a bit farther north to Wyandotte County, though, and it’s clear that outdoor recreation is a much rarer phenomenon.

On a map, the counties appear to have about the same amount of parks and recreational space. But over several decades, Wyandotte County’s parks fell into a state of neglect and disrepair – to the point of being ignored by many residents.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Wyandotte and Johnson counties, despite being across the street from one another, are worlds apart when it comes to health. On this edition of Up To Date, we explore the issues each county faces and why there is such a large discrepancy when it comes to healthcare for residents.

Guests:

We take a look at alcohol use throughout the metro, with a particular focus on Johnson County, where it's on the rise.

Guests:

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

With Wyandotte County struggling to address a shortage of primary care physicians, a discussion exploring how that shortage affects doctors, patients and the health of our communities. Plus, what does it mean to be healthy, anyway?

Guests:

Argentine District In KCK Gets Its Zumba On

Jan 8, 2016
Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Editor’s note: The video below, produced by KCPT Television, kicks off a five-part series called “Crossing to Health” that will run next week starting Monday. The series, by Heartland Health Monitor reporter Alex Smith, explores the health disparities between Wyandotte and Johnson counties and what’s being done to close the gap.

Kansas Citians Share Health Care Horror Stories

Jan 7, 2016
Artur Bergman / Flickr -- CC

 

A broken jaw during gall bladder surgery. Waiting 95 minutes for a doctor’s appointment. Being hit by a nurse.

When we asked, “What was your worst experience with health care in Kansas City?” you didn’t hold back.

Complaints ranged from access to health care to interactions with health professionals and facilities gone wrong.

Alex Smith / Heartland Health Monitor

Walk into the courtroom of Wyandotte County District Judge Kathleen M. Lynch and you may be surprised to find lawyers who aren’t asked to stand up and a judge who prefers street dress to a judge’s robes. Lynch’s docket includes lots of cases involving mental illness or substance abuse and offenders needing institutional treatment. She’s become a big advocate for more social services in the area and for courtrooms more sensitive to people who have experienced trauma.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Health rankings published in recent years have made it clear that there’s a lot of work to do in Wyandotte County, Kansas, which has some of the worst health outcomes in the state, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

But the data has also inspired many community groups, including churches, to work together to makes some changes.