Chair & CEO
Unprecedented – a word used repeatedly over the past several months to describe the times, to the extent that it has become ordinary.
And although these are indeed unprecedented times for most of us, pandemics have wrecked communities and economies for thousands of years, just as has the insidious disease of racism.
As the REACH Healthcare Foundation publishes our 2019 annual report, we are reminded how much our world has changed since the end of our last reporting year, how much remains unchanged, and the role and responsibility of philanthropy to address critical public health and race issues if we are ever to realize our dream of a just and equitable country, and healthy people and communities.
The annual report offers the opportunity to reflect on the REACH Foundation’s prior year community investments and activities, and how our Board of Directors and staff deployed our financial and people resources toward the foundation’s mission. We look back with pride at our efforts in 2019 to generate heightened public support for health care access and attention to the ongoing gaps in health care and other services for underserved populations.
But as we enter the second half of 2020, we must turn our attention to the region’s significant and ongoing health disparities, which will likely deepen in coming years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to racial equity, without which we will make little progress in improving health for all. Soaring unemployment and concurrent loss of health insurance places the failure of our state legislative leaders to pass Medicaid expansion in Kansas and Missouri in 2019 in sharp focus. REACH will double down on its efforts to convince policymakers to bring our federal dollars home to our region to support the working poor and those displaced from employment and health coverage through no fault of their own.
Although we had to pivot quickly in early 2020, responsive philanthropy is not completely new to us. The REACH Board adopted a strategic plan in 2015 that placed health equity at the center of our vision, mission and grantmaking efforts. In 2019, we reached the four-year mark on that plan and could see how the outcome investment approach we adopted was helping to propel changes in health access by focusing on barriers to health care in highly underserved parts of our region. The foundation’s outcome investment areas – Enroll All Eligible, Close the Coverage Gap and Strong Safety Net – have helped us maintain a tight focus on health disparities and barriers to care.
“The Board’s steadfast commitment to our outcome investment areas – Enroll All Eligible, Close the Coverage Gap and Strong Safety Net – allows us to focus more deeply on our mission, while maintaining the flexibility to address evolving needs and leverage resources whenever possible. As we assessed the opportunity to invest in a permanent home for the REACH Foundation, we determined that one additional resource we could make available to our community partners is a large meeting space that allows us to convene, learn from one another and collaborate on shared goals.”
– Vicki Hohenstein, Board Chair
In 2019, we continued our longstanding practice of building relationships with a set of 29 core operating grantees whose work we consider essential to the health care safety net. These 29 grantees include community health and mental health organizations and health policy and advocacy organizations – many of them organizations we have supported for more than a decade. When the pandemic required different health care responses in 2020, the REACH team was able to learn from the experiences of these trusted community partners and adjust swiftly to support their emerging needs. We deployed more than $1 million within weeks, deploying funding to longstanding grantees that are core to the region’s health care and mental health care safety net. We also eased our usual grantmaking requirements and application and reporting processes so that our nonprofit partners could use their grants where needed to respond to the health crisis.
Communities Concerned for Immigrants and Refugees (CCIR), a learning and action network introduced in 2018, continued to expand its network through hosting forums and discussions on topics ranging from culturally responsive mental health services to legal rights regarding the public charge rule to the importance of the 2020 Census. The forums have established a new platform for understanding and tackling disparities, identifying partnerships and advocating for rights and resources for these populations, as evidenced by CCIR’s leadership in pulling together local experts to provide guidance on the needs of immigrant populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
The foundation also made the decision to become heavily engaged in efforts to mobilize the region for the 2020 Census. A group of Kansas City area foundations, along with leadership at the Mid-America Regional Council, joined efforts to bring additional resources and attention to the census and our metropolitan area’s hard-to-count populations. Without accurate data, undercounted communities receive less funding, and government and public health systems are unable to respond quickly to emergent needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an example of how urgent community health needs of black and Latino populations can be obscured because of inadequate data. An accurate count in 2020 will ensure populations and needs are identified so that policy leaders and community members can advocate for the allocation of resources where they are needed most.
2019 also marked a significant milestone for REACH with the decision to establish a permanent headquarters in Overland Park, KS. The REACH Board of Directors worked closely with executive staff in 2018 to take the step to co-invest in a new building project that places REACH more centrally in our service area. We broke ground with our building partners on Avenue 82 in January 2019 and moved into our new offices in January 2020. Thanks are due especially to the members of the Finance Committee and Jo Yun, the foundation’s Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Operations, who spent incalculable hours evaluating and determining the scope and terms of this investment.
The Avenue 82 building design includes a large community meeting space that will allow us to convene nonprofit, civic and governmental groups and make our space available to grantees for networking, learning sessions and other gatherings. We look forward to capitalizing on this additional resource once our staff and partners can safely convene.
What’s next? As we experience substantial change in our lives, work and community due to new health challenges, and grapple with demands for reform of systems that limit people’s health and socioeconomic condition, the Board and staff at the REACH Foundation are ready to listen, work with leaders, and use our power and resources to confront and dismantle conditions that perpetuate disparities.
Look for us to invest more deliberately and substantially in black-led organizations. Watch us collaborate with our philanthropy colleagues and support regional approaches to better prepare us for a likely second wave of COVID infections.