Spotlight: Highlighting Root Causes of Inequity in KCMO

5 min read
Jul 28, 2020 2:16:57 PM

Healthy environments and systems of fair access are vital priorities for public health. Working towards these priorities isn’t always straightforward. Meaningful, lasting change is the result of communities coming together to address the core issues that affect us. Recognizing how residents’ environments and experiences differ is the first step in building communities where everyone can thrive. 

Democratizing data so that it is readily available to anyone seeking to create change in the world is why we exist as a company. As our CEO, Stephen Hardy, recently stated:

“Our role is to get information into the hands of communities so they can advocate for what's right.”

To help elevate the advocacy of our partners, we’re highlighting efforts to create more equitable communities. From addressing health disparities through policy, engaging in anti-racism efforts, and equipping people with information--the breadth of work our partners engage in to address inequities is a constant source of inspiration. 

In the Kansas City, MO Health Department, this ongoing work is reflected in the 2020 Community Health Assessment, which frames inequities highlighted by the pandemic within a broader story of systemic racism and community health.


The state of health in Kansas City.


To provide guidance to decision-makers and communicate the links between conversations on health outcomes and root causes of inequities, the Kansas City, MO Health Department refreshed their Community Health Assessment (CHA) in May 2020 to serve as a continued source of local insight.

As noted in its introduction, the CHA is a valuable resource at any point in time, and even more so as public health receives more attention in our communities:

"The inequities we see in COVID-19 cases and deaths are extensions of the injustices we have been fighting in KCMO for decades. [...] We have a moral responsibility to address the environmental, economic, political, and behavioral risk factors, whether there is a pandemic or not."

The CHA contains nearly 100 indicators from local and national sources that describe the environmental, economic, political, and social drivers that affect health outcomes and behaviors. The life of a Kansas Citian, from healthy foundations to preventative measures throughout the lifespan, is a function of opportunity within the city.


Framing health, COVID-19, and anti-racism.

We know COVID-19 has impacted people and communities differently. Employment instability has many costs, often including access to affordable healthcare itself. Some jobs don’t allow for social distancing, work from home, or paid leave. People of color are disproportionately impacted, as they have been before the pandemic.  

The pandemic is undoubtedly affecting everyone. However, racist systems in housing, healthcare, and the economy influence the risk of getting COVID-19 and whether a patient will recover from the virus--physically and financially.


Properly framing data is essential for creating a productive community conversation, and ultimately lasting change. This approach holds in framing statistics and the language you use to communicate the solutions to your challenge. For example, the media frequently describes efforts to contain COVID-19 as a war or battle, which causes readers to approach information with fear, combat, and expectations of loss. An alternative is to frame COVID-19 as a journey we are on together, focused on inclusion: the path may be uncertain, but despite challenges, our community is headed towards a healthier, more resilient future.

For more tips and strategies on framing, you can watch our recorded webinar Public Health Storytelling: Adapting CHIPs and CHAs for Change.


Opening up a community story.

Alongside intentional framing, positioning a CHA as a platform for addressing systemic inequities involves ongoing communications that make the data and story accessible.

Communities are dealing with multi-level issues. People need neighborhoods where making healthy choices is possible, along with and access to care providers they trust. Local businesses need a healthy workforce and financial stability to serve the community and pay employees. Public health plays a role in all of these areas.

Accessibility is important to reach people with stories and information. In working with our ADA Compliant and Mobile-Optimized platform to share its CHA, the Kansas City Health Department provides accessibility in design and data visualizations. But humanizing the story through different channels is an active process that also makes data more approachable. As an example of this, the KCMO team took to social media to share relevant, concise messaging around the CHA.


Sharing narrative and access to information.


Developing and providing an intentional narrative is an essential piece of storytelling, but transparent access to data and information is key to building trust and dialogue with a wider community. Maintaining credibility and clarity by sharing information equips more people, groups, and organizations to collaborate and make a more collective impact toward a healthier community.

To call out specific issues and local findings on the state of health in Kansas City, the Health Department promoted a series of tweets centered around core areas outlined within its CHA.


Linking external factors, such as social and economic conditions to health outcomes and behavior shows that equity is central to creating a healthier community. We must weave this approach to health into the narrative of the COVID-19 pandemic. This strategy paints a larger picture that helps steer attention to the underlying roots of local inequities. For example, the tweets above communicate the following messages for organizations and the public to digest:

  • Getting sick doesn't always mean getting care. Access to health insurance is fundamental for providing the care people need, whether in a pandemic or not.
  • Health is not one-size-fits-all. We must understand how social and economic drivers of health affect our choices to create better systems of healthy lifestyles for everyone.
  • Inequities in housing affordability are growing with COVID-19; it’s crucial to understand local barriers to high-quality housing when addressing the crisis.

Continuing the work for education and action.

Of course, this work is not done.

Sharing tweets, snippets, and data doesn’t solve all of our health issues or address the effects of systemic racism--but they're all parts of a toolkit that illuminates public health's role in building the foundations for healthy communities.

The pandemic, economic uncertainty, and deeply embedded racism are tied together. Grown from the seeds of the structures we created as a society, the Kansas City, MO Health Department is highlighting the root causes of inequity to bring more attention to health justice--so that the city can create sustainable change today and for generations to come.


The dedicated public health servants in Kansas City are already working on more ways to share information focused on equity, and we're eager for more inspiration.

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