Kansas City University Center of Excellence to focus on improving health of populations, assessing equitable outcomes

By Elizabeth Alex Jan 11, 2024
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Kansas City University (KCU) today announced plans for a new Center for Population Health and Equity (CPHE) that will systematically educate students and engage communities in addressing the factors outside of the health care system that impact health -- the social and structural determinants that are the largest contributors to health inequities. It will address key factors in oral, behavioral and primary health care; educate health professionals; study the impact and effects of policy change and educate communities.

The Center will focus on the areas surrounding KCU’s campuses in Kansas City and Joplin, Missouri, where significant disparities persist and prevent respective underserved urban and rural populations from attaining their full health potential.

The CPHE is being made possible from $11 million in congressionally directed spending in fiscal years 2022 and 2023 and a commitment of more than $12 million from KCU and philanthropic support.

“We know that more than 80 percent of an individual’s health is driven by the economic, social, environmental, cultural and physical factors that have a measurable impact on people’s ability to thrive and maintain optimal health,” said Marc B. Hahn, DO, KCU president and CEO. “At the same time, life expectancy in the U.S. continues to lag that of other developed nations, ranking just 46th in the world and projected to plummet to 64th by 2040. Since 1990, Missouri has fallen from 24th to 39th among states in health outcomes and is considerably below the U.S. average.

“For more than 107 years, Kansas City University has remained committed to our mission of ‘improving the well-being of the communities we serve.’ The CPHE is a key strategy that will be integrated throughout KCU’s strategic planning to create long-term societal benefit and greater health equity.”

About the Center

As a growing, comprehensive health sciences university with the largest medical school in Missouri and the fifth-largest in the U.S., KCU will serve as a catalyst for effecting change in the health care system to broadly improve the health of populations and achieve more equitable health outcomes throughout the state.

“KCU is taking an innovative approach to injecting population health deliberately on many levels to create a sustainable system, starting with how we teach students across all our programs,” said Catherine Satterwhite, PhD, CPHE executive director. “In addition, we’re focusing on how we engage in the community as an institution, both as a campus within a community and as part of the larger community that we serve.”

KCU will anchor population health and health equity in curricula across its academic programs in osteopathic medicine, biomedical sciences, clinical psychology and dental medicine. With over 2,000 students and a focus on interprofessional education, KCU has a unique opportunity to positively impact people’s lives in Missouri and beyond.

At the same time, the CPHE will include a strong, practical community education and engagement emphasis, strengthening existing KCU relationships and building new strategic partnerships with community stakeholders, including non-traditional partners, to create multi-disciplinary collaboration and improve health outcomes for Missourians. In addition, the CPHE will incorporate clinical outreach throughout its programs with regional partners, including hospital systems, federally qualified health centers and Heart to Heart International, and work to incentivize trained medical professionals to stay in the community after they graduate.

A key component of the CPHE will be to research, analyze and disseminate data to identify and improve the health and well-being of the Kansas City and Joplin communities. This will include the yearly publication of an Annual Heartland Health Report -- a meta-analysis that identifies the factors (including race, socioeconomic, geographic and others) that have a direct impact on the health of urban and rural populations throughout the state, and an assessment of the equity of care delivered.

“The U.S. invests a lot in health care -- in the research of disease and in treating illness -- but not enough in the upstream factors, such as housing, food security, health literacy, voter access, adverse childhood experiences, transportation and access to health insurance,” said Satterwhite. “As a country, we also need to do a better job of educating health science workforces of the role they play, focusing on prevention and keeping people healthy by impacting those upstream factors before patients present in the exam room and hospital.”

Satterwhite looks for the CPHE to serve as an incubator, a place to bring together those with shared interests to talk, offer novel approaches and test new ideas to inform community-based strategies that promote health.

“Kansas City University is proud of our growing recognition as a change leader in health professions education and our efforts to create conditions in which all people have the opportunity to thrive, flourish and attain their full health potential,” Hahn added. “We appreciate the congressional funding support that made this effort possible.”

Both campuses will undergo capital improvements to launch the CPHE. The Kansas City campus will complete a remodeling project with an anticipated opening of the Center in summer 2024; the Joplin campus will construct a new building to house the Center, slated to open in 2025.

About Kansas City University

Kansas City University, founded in 1916, is a fully accredited, private not-for-profit health sciences university with Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, Biosciences and a College of Dental Medicine. The College of Osteopathic Medicine is the fifth largest medical school in the U.S., the ninth most impactful medical school for primary care for the nation, the tenth most affordable of private medical colleges, and the leading producer of physicians for the State of Missouri. The College of Osteopathic Medicine has two sites strategically located on the University’s campuses in Kansas City and Joplin, Missouri, to address the growing needs of both urban and rural populations. The University offers multiple graduate degrees; a doctor of osteopathic medicine; a doctor of psychology in clinical psychology; a master of arts in bioethics; a master of science in the biomedical sciences; a master of business administration in partnership with Rockhurst University; a new master of public health in partnership with the University of Nebraska Medical Center; and seated the first doctor of dental medicine students in 2023.

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