The Kansas Health Foundation quietly celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, but the work it has done to improve health – and its new vision for the future – deserves public notice and praise.
The foundation was formed in 1985 after the sale of Wesley Hospital. Its initial endowment was $200 million, and early funding projects focused on biomedical research and improving pregnancy outcomes and services for the rural elderly.
As its endowment has grown – it’s now about $500 million – so have its funding and outreach. Over the past 30 years, the foundation has provided more than $560 million in grants targeting a wide range of health initiatives.
The foundation also formed related organizations to expand its work. The Kansas Health Institute in Topeka, founded in 1995, provides health-related research and news. The Kansas Leadership Center, founded in 2005, fosters civic leadership.
Though there have been significant improvements in health and health policy during the past 30 years, such as the statewide public smoking ban, Kansas has also slipped in some measures. For example, Kansas’ obesity rate increased, and its health ranking compared with other states dropped.
To combat these declines, the foundation changed its tax status this year to allow it to advocate. It also developed a new vision to “build a culture in which every Kansan can make healthy choices where they live, work and play.”
The foundation’s policy priorities include establishing a registered dental practitioner program in Kansas, expanding Medicaid, and supporting child nutrition programs. It also intends to focus on poverty, education and other social determinants of health.
“The ZIP code where you live can really determine how healthy you are,” foundation president and CEO Steve Coen told The Eagle editorial board.
The foundation has made a difference in Wichita and the state during the past 30 years. Going forward, expect it to be even more active and effective.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee