Hundreds of people gathered in the parking lot of Wild Woody’s Happy Foods grocery store. There are giant inflatable games for kids, and a DJ is playing music as the smell of a cookout wafts in the air. You might have thought it was a promotional event for Wild Woody’s but it’s actually an event to reach the underserved with healthcare and vaccines.  

Our Healthy KC Eastside (OHKCE) put on the event.  It was just 117 events over five months in 2021 put on by the program to reach people with health care resources and services, where they are and in often untraditional models.  

OHKCE was started to raise COVID vaccination rates in six underserved eastside zip codes but thanks to the program’s success, it’s being expanded.  

The Jackson County legislature voted to give $5M to the program that is changing its name to Our Healthy Jackson County (OHJC) to reflect a new broader scope. Over the next two years, the program will place doctors onsite at community events in small businesses, churches, and youth centers to give free healthcare screenings and vaccinations. 

“I think it’s the most comprehensive plan I’ve seen in my decades of work within the community,” says Calvary Temple Baptist Pastor Eric Williams. “The beauty of it is that they use the strengths of more than 60 organizations and over 150 community health liaisons to affect the health of our residents.”

OHJC’s model has had success due in part to its collaboration with trusted partners within the community. They nearly tripled their vaccination goal, and on top of that delivered over 5,000 free healthcare services like screenings for diabetes, STIs, cancer, and mental health s, in addition to free dental assessments. They also surveyed 3,500 residents to create a healthcare needs assessment of KC’s East side. 

“We want to focus on prevention; we know that the health care system is set up to treat the sick, but we want to keep people out of the hospital,” says OHJC lead Dr. Janette Berkley-Patton.

The program previously focused on just six historically underserved zip codes on Kansas City’s east side. The program will expand to neighboring areas with a similar demographic makeup like KC’s northeast. In this phase, OHJC is set to concentrate on underserved communities and won’t reach the entire county but could expand further in the future.

“This funding allows us to continue our mission of supporting our most socially vulnerable neighborhoods while also providing vital preventative health services,” says Jackson County Executive Frank White

While OHJC will still provide vaccinations, they are using data and neighborhood feedback to offer resources where they are most needed. They will continue to partner with small businesses, churches, neighborhood associations, and youth organizations to host pop-up events where preventative screenings will be held. 

Our Healthy Jackson County initiative is a broad-spectrum collaboration with UMKC, Children’s Mercy Hospital, University Health, and dozens of local partners. The $5M comes from the federal American Rescue Plan Act and is administered by Jackson County. 

OHJC set out to administer 5,000 COVID vaccinations in 2021 but wound up giving out 13,000 in just five months, in addition to free health screenings.

Infant Mortality

Blood pressure, diabetes, STI, dental, and cancer screenings will continue to be a major thrust of OHJC’s work. A new addition to the program includes an initiative to lower infant mortality rates in the county. 

Kansas City’s east side has an infant mortality rate nearly four times higher than the national average. Dr. Traci Johnson, Chairperson for the Missouri Perinatal Mortality Committee, jis joining the OHJC team to help lower infant mortality rates in the county. 

“We are so thrilled to begin to change the rate of infant mortality in our county by instituting programs like this that will not only increase the chance that a baby makes it to their first birthday, but also will increase the chance that the mother caring for them will be healthy as well,” says Johnson. 

Some ways OHJC will work to reduce infant mortality rates include asking women if they’d like to be pregnant in the next year when they come for a screening or doctor’s visit and connecting them to resources, no matter the answer. If yes, the program helps get them information on preparing their body for childbirth, including taking folate to prevent birth defects. 

If the woman does not want to be pregnant, they’ll connect her to contraceptive counseling since 51% of births in Missouri are unplanned. 

“Studies show that when women have support when making decisions about their health and reproductive health, they tend to have better health outcomes,” says Dr. Berkley-Patton.