UMKC’s Health Equity Institute works to halt COVID-19 pandemic in KC

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Posted at 8:14 PM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-17 08:13:24-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Not even pounding rain can keep Rico Beuford from solving a problem. On a rainy Wednesday, the medical student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City volunteered at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Kansas City, Missouri.

“I think it’s helpful having someone that looks like you and represents you here at these kind of testing facilities,” Beuford, who is Black, explained.

UMKC's Health Equity Institute facilitated the volunteering. It is a group, which was formed four years ago, focused on identifying health care problems and offering solutions led by Dr. Jannette Berkley-Patton.

“It feels awesome,” she said holding an umbrella. “This is what I really feel like the Health Equity Institute was called to do.”

Berkley-Patton said when it comes to COVID-19, her institute identified one problem as more Blacks and Hispanics dying compared to white people in KCMO, so her group implemented two solutions.

The first is all about adding manpower to the fight against COVID-19.

During the past eight weeks, the institute has helped roughly 85 students, like Beuford, volunteer so the KCMO Health Department can host more free COVID-19 testing sites in the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods.

Students don’t perform the testing, but they help with registration, traffic control, intake and answer questions for people being tested.

“(The volunteers) made all the difference in the world,” KCMO Health Department Deputy Director Frank Thompson said. “In fact, in those early weeks, we probably wouldn’t have been able to pull off those first few testing sites without their assistance.”

The second solution the institute has rolled out is to work with pastors in the Clergy Response Network. Berkley-Patton wants to provide pastors with guidelines as they reopen their churches, so they spread awareness and not the coronavirus.

“It is the time for the academy and churches and community to really be in lockstep as it relates to getting to the outcomes," Pastor Ron Lindsay, the founding pastor of Concord Fortress of Hope Church, said. "Too many times, we make things about the silos we’re in. It’s not about a silo. It really is about being connected together."

That's why Lindsay's church has hosted three drive-thru testing events in its parking lot, including one Wednesday.

Berkley-Patton is also working with the Clergy Response Network to distribute face masks to churches for use by their congregants in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Before Beuford even becomes a doctor, he is happy to be part of the solution.

“It’s just to simply help and that’s my calling to medicine is to help people,” he said.

Aside from coronavirus, the Health Equity Institute is working on several other projects, including a study of diabetes in KCMO's urban core.

Soon it will begin studying how free bus service impacts health in terms of promoting physical activity, improving access to hospitals and helping people get jobs that offer health care benefits.