Protecting Community Health During COVID-19

From Kansas City Medicine, Third Quarter 2020
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The COVID-19 pandemic thrust public health into the forefront nationally and locally as residents sought hope and direction on how to respond. Metro Kansas City’s public health departments have risen to the occasion. Their epidemiologists and data analysts are compiling and sharing data and information to advise elected officials and other community leaders. Other department staff are conducting testing of residents to respond to and mitigate disease outbreaks, performing disease investigation through contact tracing, and educating the public through ongoing communications.

For their efforts on behalf of metro residents, the Kansas City-area public health departments have been chosen to receive the 2020 KCMS Friend of Medicine Award, which is presented to a non-physician for service to medicine.

The area’s public health directors already had strong working relationships in place prior to COVID-19. They have been sharing information and collaborating on joint projects for years—often with limited resources—through the Metropolitan Official Health Agencies of the Kansas City Area (MOHAKCA). Representing 9 counties and 11 jurisdictions, the public health director group is facilitated through the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC).

As the pandemic began to unfold, MOHAKCA shifted from meetings every other month to weekly Zoom meetings. At the sessions, the public health directors review regional data on the presence of COVID-19 and its spread, along with updates and concerns on everything from testing and contact tracing to school re-openings and mask mandates.

“These meetings have been very important to our shared understanding and to our individual decision making,” said Juliann Van Liew, MPH, director of public health for the Wyandotte County Unified Government. “They help me find out how each jurisdiction is handling a particular issue and almost always provide me with some additional insight to consider on any given topic.”

Besides information sharing, MOHAKCA has provided a forum for the public health directors to develop various joint projects responding to COVID-19, according to Marlene Nagel, director of community development for MARC.

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