An extensive survey of Wyandotte County residents that was conducted in 1986 indicated that only about 13 percent had no health insurance. Fast forward to 2012—that number increased to nearly 24 percent.
The United Way of Wyandotte County sponsored that effort conducted by the Survey Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Champaign. It also noted that about 92 percent of those surveyed were generally satisfied with the medical care they received.
The demographics of Wyandotte County tell the story of the drop in insured. In 1986, Wyandotte County had about 165,000 persons; today that number is estimated at about 159,000. The good news is that it appears the county’s population has bottomed out and may show a slight increase. However, many of those who left Wyandotte County were middle class—the backbone of any community.
A significant turning point came about in 2009 when Wyandotte County ranked dead last among 105 counties when it came to healthcare. People here were dying too young and suffering from too many chronic diseases.
Joe Reardon, who was mayor at the time, decided that had to change. He convened a group of about 100 community leaders that formed Healthy Communities Wyandotte. He concluded that the community could make all sorts of progress including building retail and sports centers. However, if residents weren’t healthy, other improvements wouldn’t mean much.
The volunteer leaders established five basic action teams—communications, education, infrastructure, nutrition and health services.
The communication team is focusing on sharing information and encouraging discussion that will change behavior. The education effort helps assure that families have access to quality training and subsequent careers. The infrastructure needs to provide opportunities for healthy and active living. All residents need access to healthy food. And finally health services must be more accessible.
The Healthy Communities effort hired Caitlin McMurtry to set up the framework for these various action teams. A grant from the Kansas Health Institute funded her efforts. She recently left to attend Harvard University to earn a master’s degree in public health.
One of the success stories of this effort can be seen at the Bhutanese community garden where families wanted to farm vacant lots near 14th Street and Allen Avenue, but couldn’t afford water. Catholic Charities sponsors the garden project.
The Unified Government’s Public Works Department is helping by managing a $50,000 pilot grant through its storm water management fund. Bob Roddy, the director of public works, said that this effort addressed “a variety of community goals that kind of converged together.”
On Oct. 1, federal officials will launch Obamacare. The hope in Wyandotte County is that several of the 27,000 people who are without health insurance will be covered. That was the opinion of Joe Connor, the director of the Unified Government’s Health Department who was quoted in a recent story published online by the Kansas Health Institute.
Barbara Langer, the chairperson of the Healthy Communities effort, was also quoted in the same story.
“This is a county that’s used to creating some local solutions,” she said. “I think the statewide (public outreach) effort will be well and good, but there are pockets of people you will not reach unless you have local involvement.”
Joe Reardon is to be commended for bringing various efforts together to help find solutions to this health problem. People will support those things that they help create.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press.