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A Health and Wellness Desert

Kansas City Public Library, MO

Innovation Summary

The Kansas City Public Library(KCPL) and Truman Medical Center (TMC) partnered to address the lack of health and wellness knowledge among residents of Kansas City’s urban core. The two organizations created programs to promote chronic disease management and prevention, access to healthier eating, teen sexual health and health career awareness.

Problem Statement

Located in one of Kansas City’s most economically distressed neighborhoods, the newly renovated L.H. Bluford Branch Library serves what can be considered a Health and Wellness Desert. The neighborhood lacks health care services and information, and there is little or no access to grocery stores that provide fresh produce. There are high rates of diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Neighborhood high schools report sexually transmitted diseases at epidemic rates. The challenge for KCPL and TMC was to deliver health and wellness information to members of this community in a welcoming, comfortable and accessible environment. The program demonstrates how individuals can monitor their health and learn to make healthier choices in their lives (whether it’s diet, nutrition or preventing STDs). This was an opportunity to engage the community and use their feedback to create programs that connect residents of all ages, (teens, working adults, elderly) with resources that promote understanding of good health and the threats to it. Under the program the Library becomes a center for health care information that can influence physical well-being, livelihoods and longevity among a population challenged by multiple health risk factors. In addition it creates mentoring relationships with teens that were making unhealthy choices and adults trying to manage chronic disease.


KCPL and TMC addressed two different audiences -- teens and adults with high health risk factors -- in specific ways. The first was a series of teen lock-in programs. Initially these programs focused on teen sexual health through informative presentations by TMC and covering many issues, from STDs to pregnancy prevention. The teens at this lock-ins grew to respect the librarians and health care professionals as mentors. It was at the original lock-ins that Library staff realized that most teens knew little about healthy eating or the many career opportunities open to them in health care. From this feedback KCPL and TMC developed the Health Explorers program featuring field trips to a mock hospital, a culinary arts center and the fire department. These trips exposed at-risk teens to accessible careers and connected them to health educators and health professionals. On one field trip teens were taken to a local restaurant. For many it was the first time they had been exposed to broad menu choices. Some said it was their first non-fast food dining out experience. To reach at-risk adults and families a monthly mini health fair was established. The Saturday health fairs provide screenings for hypertension, diabetes, HIV, sight, lead levels and others health factors. The fairs have attracted participation by nearly two dozen additional organizations including , Cleveland Chiropractic College, the Lions Eye Research Foundation and the Veterans Administration. Input from health fair attendees indicated a need for proactive, free programs to address overall health and weight loss. KCPL and TMC responded by offering free cardio kickboxing and aerobics classes along with a 12-week weight loss challenge for all fitness levels and ages.


More than 70 teens participated in the summer 2012 Health Explorer field trips and lock-ins, gaining exposure to healthy habits and accessible careers, along with an opportunity to develop lasting relationships with peers and mentors in the health and library professions. This program continues with field trips planned for the spring and summer of 2013. Monthly mini health fairs are being held at an additional three branch libraries. KCPL and TMC are routinely approached by community-based and private sector health and wellness providers to be a part of their health fairs. Attendance at cardio and aerobics classes is averaging more than 40 each week. Participants range from those with excellent fitness to those confined to wheel chairs, the elderly, and families. In the fall of 2012 TMC added the L.H. Bluford Branch Library as stop for its Mobile Market bus. The bus sells fresh fruits and vegetables in neighborhoods that have limited access healthy food options.