New Assessment of Needs in Growing Kansas City Latino Community Underway

Dana Gibson (foreground)

Dana Gibson (foreground)


KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In the past quarter century, the number of Hispanics living in the Kansas City metro area has grown more than 10 times faster than the overall population.

Local Hispanic leaders have hired researchers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City to assess the needs of their community, including gaps in medical care. The last such review, which surveyed 100 Hispanics, came out in 1988.

The new research effort is a key initiative of the Latino Civic Engagement Collaborative, headed by executives at six area organizations, including the Mattie Rhodes Center, the Hispanic Economic Development Corp., and Cabot Westside Medical & Dental Center.

Leaders of the collaborative, which formed in 2009, highlighted the new needs assessment at a Tuesday evening reception that marked the release of the organization’s first annual report. The event, held at the offices of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, drew about 100 business, political and community leaders.

“I’m sorry to say we are probably still going to see some of the same results that we saw back in ’88,” said Bernardo Ramirez, executive director of the development corporation. “But hopefully now, with a more concerted effort (through the collaborative), we can address those more thoroughly and be much smarter about it.”

The Greater Kansas City Community Foundation funded the 1988 assessment. It hired a researcher from Penn Valley Community College to oversee the project. The National Council of La Raza in Washington, D.C., provided technical assistance. The new effort is being paid for with $70,000 raised by the Collaborative, mostly through grants from various local foundations.

According to census data cited in the 1988 needs assessment, the Kansas City metropolitan area had about 32,000 Hispanic residents in 1980. The area now has about 204,000 Hispanic residents, according to the latest census data.

That’s an increase of more than 500 percent during a period in which the overall population in the metropolitan area increased by about 43 percent, from roughly 1.4 million to 2 million people.

The four-phase assessment should be complete by June, said principal investigator Kathryn L. Fuger, who is a director at UMKC’s Institute for Human Development.

Researchers at the institute are now analyzing responses collected through a 53-question survey. Staff and volunteers gathered more than 1,300 completed surveys at more than 40 different community gatherings during the summer and fall, Fuger said.

Among the questions were inquiries about access to physicians, dentists, prescription medication, and counseling or therapy.

Fuger said additional information for the report would come from surveys of “key informants,” such as the community leaders gathered at Tuesday evening’s reception, and a “civic engagement” survey of juniors and seniors at some area high schools.

One question on the youth survey asks if students talk about current social and political events with their parents, including topics such as health care and immigration reform.

“The sense of appreciation of the Latino community for us examining what they say on both their strengths and assets in the community, as well as the needs, has been very heartwarming,” Fuger said.

Mattie Rhodes President John Fierro spearheaded the formation of the collaborative.

He said he wanted to mend fences after a controversial appointment to the Kansas City, Mo., parks board split the Hispanic community. Fierro was in the middle of the firestorm as chairman of the panel.

Cooperation among the members, which have disparate missions, helps provide a “continuum of care” for the Hispanic community, he said.

For instance, Cabot might refer a patient with a business idea to the chamber. Or, Westside Housing Organization might tell a resident about counseling services available at Mattie Rhodes.

Some have questioned whether the new needs assessment is needed.

Among them is Mary Lou Jaramillo, chief executive of El Centro, a community organization that serves the Latino communities in Wyandotte and Johnson counties in Kansas.

She said resources such as the annual county health rankings produced by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provide good data about the health needs of the local Latino community.

She also said teen pregnancy and substance abuse among young adults, which were problems cited in the 1988 assessment, clearly remain issues today.

“It’s not like there is not a lot of data,” Jaramillo said. “And we also know that Hispanics in our community get tired of being asked these questions. Because their question is: So what are you going to do with it? What happens? How is my life going to change?”



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