Kansans doctors praise federal COVID-19 funding for underserved communities
New report from Poor People’s Campaign points to connection between poverty and pandemic deaths
Ed Ellerbeck, chairman of population health at KU Medical Center, said the National Institute of Health Rapid Acceleration and Diagnostics in Underserved Populations program grant has helped them set up over 500 testing events and deliver almost 50,000 tests. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from University of Kansas Health System Facebook video)
TOPEKA — Doctors at a Kansas hospital say a half-billion-dollar federal grant is helping combat COVID-19 in communities across the state most disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Using funds from the National Institute of Health Rapid Acceleration and Diagnostics in Underserved Populations program grant, the University of Kansas Health System leaders say they have been able to engage with communities in need. The hospital engaged with 10 focus counties: Crawford, Douglas, Finney, Johnson, Lyon, Riley, Saline, Sedgwick, Seward and Wyandotte.
Ed Ellerbeck, chairman of population health at KU Medical Center, said the hospital held more than 500 testing events and delivered almost 50,000 tests in underserved communities. He said the core of the effort was to reassure Kansans about their ability to work with the health care system and combat misinformation.
“We helped (counties) link up and form what we call local health equity action teams to actually make sure we had that representation and the voice of the local community,” Ellerbeck said. “That model was very well received at the local and national level, and now, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, with funding from the Center for Disease Control, is working with us to extend that model of community engagement to 20 counties across the state.”
KDHE has recorded 770,275 COVID-19 cases, 20,081 hospitalizations and 8,397 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. The agency recently decided it would update COVID-19 statistics on its dashboard one a week, on Friday, rather than three times a week.
In Wyandotte County, the effort from the federal funds proved vital in counteracting misinformation rife within the community, said Marian Ramirez-Mantilla, director of Juntos Center for Advancing Latino Health at KU Med. A common misconception, for example, was that the vaccine could cause infertility, she said.
“We developed PSAs with testimonials from people and from health professionals addressing these topics,” Ramirez-Mantilla said. “Connecting to people in a way that makes sense to them, in their language, has made a difference, and we’ve been getting a really good response.”
With the grant set to end soon, KU Health System staff are focused on ensuring long-term strong infrastructure is in place. April is National Minority Health Month, said Catherine Satterwhite, the health administrator for the Health and Human Services region that includes Kansas, and that means another opportunity to focus on those most in need.
“There’s both a role for systemic change and for self-advocacy, but I think what we lose a lot is hoping that people will take it into their own hands when we need to be partnering to make bigger changes, to increase accessibility and to meet people where they are,” Satterwhite said. “There are some excellent community health centers that are located in neighborhoods that are traditionally underserved, but they can’t do it all.”
A recent report from the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival focused on those in poverty in Kansas and how they were affected by the pandemic. The analysis compares U.S. counties from the poorest 10% to the richest 10% and shows that, overall, the poorest counties have grieved nearly two times the losses of the wealthiest counties.
Among the Kansas counties with the highest intersection of poverty and COVID-19 death rates were Chautauqua, Cherokee, Cloud, Graham, Jewell, Montgomery and Russell counties. During the deadliest waves of the pandemic, death rates rose up to four and half times as high as other counties.
“This cannot be explained by vaccination status,” said Shailly Gupta Barnes, policy director for the campaign. “Over half of the population in these counties have received their second vaccine shot, but uninsured rates are twice as high.”
The Rev. Liz Theoharis, a national co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said it was critical to shift the moral narrative and put a human face on the suffering of at-risk communities. The group is planning a Juned 18 march on Washington, D.C., to call for better health outcomes for those in need.
“We can no longer ignore the reality of poverty and dismiss its root causes as the problems of individual people or communities,” Theoharis said. “There has been systemic failure to address poverty in this country … for years and generations. However, this does not need to continue. Our nation has the resources to fully address poverty and low wealth from the bottom up.”
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.