NHA Addresses Mental Health, Opioids, and Food Access in Community

Monica Miller with the Clay County Public Health Department speaking at a Community Conversation event for the Northland Health Alliance
Monica Miller, Community Development Specialist for the Clay County Public Health Department, speaks during a Community Conversation event. Photo Jason Cole.

The Northland Health Alliance (NHA) held a community conversation on Thursday, August 3, 2023, at The Montgomery Event Venue in downtown Excelsior Springs. The event gathered a small group of citizens, along with representatives from various local entities, to discuss the urgent issue of access to healthy food and other pressing health-related concerns in the Northland community.

Clay County Community Health Assessment

The Clay County Public Health Department began by discussing its Community Health Assessment (CHA). This comprehensive report details the health and well-being of residents in Kansas City’s Northland community. By collating information from various sources, including resident surveys, public health data, and hospital records, the CHA aims to identify urgent health needs and direct resources accordingly.

Key Priorities for Northland Health Alliance

The NHA unveiled its top three priorities for the year in a separate meeting in February, focusing on:

1. Mental Health First Aid: This evidence-based approach includes training health providers in mental health first aid and seeking Medicaid expansion.

2. Eliminating Suicide: With over 300 mental health issues reported in one month at the North Kansas City Hospital’s ER in December 2022, the NHA aims to utilize the “QPR” approach and a specialized crisis hotline. The Question-Persuade-Refer is a practical and proven suicide prevention method.

3. Opioid Epidemic: 3,000 deaths last year, including 52 Clay Countians, have made the distribution of Narcan vital, along with collaboration with treatment facilities throughout Northland.

Addressing the Food Desert Crisis

After the last grocery store in downtown Excelsior Springs closed, the community has been grappling with the challenges of a “food desert.” This issue has disproportionately impacted the community’s lowest economic households, leaving families relying on gas stations for food supplies.

In response, the Healthy Foods Task Force is working with the MU Extension to offer educational opportunities and establish an interactive map to show food resources. Clay County Health Department’s WIC Program also proposed encouraging citizens to utilize food pantries, offering free nutritionist services, and facilitating access to health services, even for working or undocumented residents.

Food Insecurity in Clay County, Missouri
Source: Northland Health Alliance, Community Health Assessment, Access to Health Food Task Force

Community Priorities

Participants in the meeting were given the opportunity to allocate fictional tax dollars, revealing a collective priority for access to healthy food and mental health services, followed by transportation, violence and safety measures, substance abuse resources, and other concerns.

Housing and Economic Development Concerns

The meeting also highlighted concerns related to a shortage in workforce housing and wholesale housing through out-of-town investors. City of Excelsior Springs Economic Development Director Melinda Mehaffy shared progress in vacant property registration, resulting in nine previously vacant properties now being sold to families. Something else being discussed are the mid-range homes that are being used as AirB&Bs and the impact they’re having on the housing shortage. 

The Northland Health Alliance’s community conversation has laid a foundation for addressing urgent health needs in the community, ranging from mental health and substance abuse to food accessibility. The collective commitment to evidence-based approaches and community engagement sets a positive tone for future development, as organizations and authorities work hand-in-hand to create policies, assign resources, and plan actions to enhance community well-being.

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