Learning from Grantees
As we do each year in our annual report, we are sharing a few stories from the work of our grantees. The projects highlighted below represent a fraction of the 46 health equity grants Sunflower awarded in 2019. The grantees represent a diverse group of community and state organizations dedicated to rethinking how they address the broader social needs of the patients, clients, and communities they serve. The work is eclectic, with some grantees focused on very specific strategies, such as building an advocacy network or passing a policy, while others are more introspective, focusing their time and resources on developing better processes, systems, and partnerships to better support the social needs of those they serve. Sunflower’s expectation for grantees was to focus on what was changed or accomplished – not on the specifics of how the grant dollars were spent. As we are learning, it’s not always about the amount of money invested, but how it was invested. As one of the health equity grantees so eloquently noted, “grant money, well-placed, can do wonders.”
A Health Care System that Reflects the Community it Serves
Kansas City Medical Society
The Kansas City Medical Society Foundation recognizes the challenges to staffing health care facilities in diverse communities. Challenges that are multiplied when trying to recruit a provider that understands the culture and speaks the language of those they serve. After all, language and culture affect numerous aspects of care, including access to and use of health care, how health care is provided and received, and adherence and compliance with treatment programs. As communities in and around Kansas City become more diverse, it is crucial to diversify the pool of health care providers.
Not content to simply help recruit from the existing pool of health care professionals, the Kansas City Medical Society Foundation is working to “create an education-to-employment pipeline for a full range of multi-lingual, multi-cultural primary care and behavioral health professionals, utilizing existing high school, college and training options and connecting with Wyandotte County employers. Part of the mission of this work is to help the community see students’ diverse languages and cultures as crucial assets to building a more diverse and thriving medical community.” While much work remains, Kansas City Medical Society Foundation is taking the long view and moving upstream to deploy new thinking and new strategies to tackle challenges that have long plagued the health care workforce.
Building Community through Healthy Food Access
The Sunrise Project
The challenges to increasing access to healthy foods are many. One aspect that is often talked about, but not always implemented, is how to engage and support individuals and families in obtaining access to food in a sensitive, culturally appropriate way. The Sunrise Project from the Lawrence Community Food Alliance has developed an approach that combines access to healthy food with a host of other strategies aimed at food education, building social connections, enhancing leadership skills development, and in promoting an understanding of advocacy and policy change. A cornerstone of this work is the community meals program. Through this innovative program, a diverse group of community members come together to prepare and share a healthy meal and discuss a wide variety of community issues. Through this loosely structured, approachable format people can learn about one another and the opportunities and challenges they face in the community. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.
The Sunrise Project is helping to build community through food and the power of connecting over a good meal. This is one of the few opportunities that an individual living in poverty might have to sit down on equal footing and enjoy a meal and conversation with the mayor, city commissioner, or school board member. Changing systems and policies truly begins with people who understand and respect one another.
Ensuring Mental Health and Crisis Services to Reduce Recidivism
Episcopal Social Services
In a mental health crisis, people are more likely to encounter police than to get medical help. As a result, millions of individuals with mental illness are booked into jails each year. The vast majority of the individuals are not violent criminals but typically arrive there as a result of an overwhelmed, understaffed, and disconnected crisis support system. Once in jail, many individuals don’t receive the treatment they need and end up getting worse, not better. They stay longer than their counterparts without mental illness. They are at risk of victimization.
After leaving jail, many no longer have access to needed health care and benefits. A criminal record often makes it hard for individuals to get a job or find housing. Many individuals, especially those without access to mental health services and supports, wind up homeless, in emergency rooms, and are often re-arrested. Episcopal Social Services is committed to understanding how to better serve incarcerated individuals with mental illness. Specifically, they are partnering with law enforcement, crisis support services, the local mental health center, and others to review and modify a number of policies aimed at connecting people to needed health and social services – improving quality of life and reducing recidivism.
Building a Movement for Safe and Affordable Housing
Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
Families in need of affordable housing live everywhere: small towns and sprawling cities. While the need has been present in communities across the state for some time, the issue has not always received the attention it deserves. Kansas Appleseed is working to change that and is currently partnering with stakeholders to design a statewide healthy housing advocacy movement that will connect local efforts to a statewide coalition with the power to develop and advance specific systemic solutions. This more defined structure will provide communities and individuals working in this space an easier way to connect, learn from one another, and access content experts and training.
Kansas Appleseed believes community-led capacity building is the way to ensure sustainable advocacy, including the work needed to promote safe and affordable housing.
Stop Predatory Lending in Kansas
Access to credit equals access to opportunity. According to a Federal Reserve study released in 2017 people with less access to credit are more likely to report financial hardships. Credit freedom also results in greater independence and allows borrowers to have more control over their own financial health. Unfortunately, for many Kansans, access to credit comes only in the form of predatory lending. These loans most often come with unaffordable payments, unreasonable durations, and unnecessarily high costs. They carry annual percentage rates (APRs) of 300 to 500 percent and are due on the borrower’s next payday (roughly two weeks later) in lump-sum payments that consume about a third of the average customer’s paycheck, making them difficult to repay without borrowing again. Topeka JUMP is working with partners to change that reality for Kansans.
While this work requires a long term commitment, Topeka JUMP is helping to lay a strong foundation anchored in grassroots organizing and a dedicated and expansive network of advocates.
Hospital Care Re-imagined
Cherokee County Hospital
As the Critical Access Hospital (CAH) in St. Francis, a small community near the Colorado border, staff are accustomed to providing the traditional services community members expect from their hospital. And while important, hospital staff have come to recognize the need to better address some of the underlying issues that give rise to challenging health conditions, such as access to mental health, poverty, and food access. To learn more, hospital staff went out into the community to talk to residents and community-based organizations meeting in places and at times convenient for them. They wanted to know how the hospital could be helpful, beyond the traditional services people associated with the hospital.
“We are no longer just talking about mental health and our lack of access. We are holding discussion forums and creating action plans and meeting with commissioners, school administration, and the communities to make real change.” In Northwest Kansas, “we are realizing that we are all dealing with the same issues, and collaborating to create change is much better together than individually!”
Moving Community Priorities Forward
Kansas Sampler Foundation
The Kansas Sampler Foundation is not shy about tackling tough issues that impact rural Kansas. The organization has been finding innovative and approachable strategies to convene and activate people for years. But like any organization, the foundation requires funding to function. Unfortunately for the foundation, and many small organizations like them, this means having to sometimes choose between securing the critical funds needed to operate and in moving forward the work that they and their partners see as fundamental. This results in a growing number of projects that are placed on the back burner and staff that are increasingly forced to manage the push and pull of a business model that at times becomes more focused on funding than in moving forward the mission of the organization.
Kansas Sampler Foundation named 2019 “the year of the network” to intentionally connect more Kansans together to do more powerful work than any one person or organization could do on their own. Through a network of local, regional, statewide and national partners, Kansas Sampler convenes “do-alogues” on priorities facing rural Kansans, such as childcare and aging in place. All of the issues have strong connections to social determinants of health and now those connections are part of the conversation and there are funds to move forward the identified priorities. Far too often available funding doesn’t always match the work that communities see as the priority. For the Kansas Sampler Foundation, this grant is a rare opportunity to support both the organization and the work it’s called to do. “This funding has allowed us to breathe, to think bigger, and somehow it is showing us a new way to exist.”