The Kansas Health Foundation Favors Roots-Up Approach to Community Health

The Kansas Health Foundation was established in 1985, after the closing of Wesley Medical Center, and it started out with a $200 million endowment. Now that endowment has swelled to more than $475 million, making it the biggest philanthropic body in the entire state. And though establishing health foundations in the aftermath of big health center knock-downs is fairly commonplace these days, in 1985 it was nothing short of revolutionary.

This quiet foundation has now been shaping health in Kansas for three decades, and it’s time we all took more notice of its actionsas well as the growing resources and clout of other state health care foundations, a trend we write about regularly. 

KHF first caught our eye last year when it shipped out nearly $2 million to 22 community organizations across the state, all in the name of public health. And rather than giving to big general organizations, or state branches of national organizations, most of the money it gave went to groups working in Kansas, for Kansas. Groups that are actually working with people in communities, like the City of Wichita, for healthy eating programs, and Thrive Allen County, which helps expand access to physical activity and good food in disadvantaged neighborhood. It’s a roots-up approach to public health.

Just recently, the foundation announced that it’s currently accepting applications from nonprofits in Kansas that are interested in building programs that improve the health of “all Kansans.” The foundation will award up to $25,000 grants to support community-focused health projects—specifically, the sorts of initiatives that focus on “promoting policy, systems, and environmental transformations." 

As we said, KHF is not just cutting checks to the usual suspects. 

The roots of this approach can be traced back to a series of 40 town hall-style meetings KHF convened in 1998 throughout its home state to take the pulse of Kansas residents and figure out the best approach to the state’s public health hurdles.

Apparently, these meetings happened after the foundation’s initial research-based approach didn’t seem to be working. They changed gears to focus on prevention, and have taken a broad approach to that work.