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Q&A: Jessica Hembree, program and policy officer at the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City

May 21, 2018

Jessica Hembree is a program and policy officer at the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. Hembree spoke with Interact for Health about the foundation's youth tobacco prevention efforts.

Interact for Health: Could you explain more about the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and its goals?

Jessica Hembree: The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City focuses on building a culture of health in our community. We feel the most important way for us do that is to tackle the pressing health issues that are impacting people who are most in need. We work with partners to improve the quality, accessibility, and equity of local health services, and focus on ways to eliminate health disparities in our communities. One of our goals has been youth tobacco prevention.

Interact for Health: Could you tell me a brief story that illustrates the effect of your organization's work in the community?

Hembree: We had some really amazing success around Tobacco 21, which is an initiative that aims to raise the tobacco-purchasing age from 18 to 21. Two cities within our point of service -- Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri -- both expressed interest in passing Tobacco 21 and it actually became a little bit of a race to see which one would do it first. Ultimately, both cities passed Tobacco 21 on the very same day within hours of one another.

Interact for Health: What lessons have you learned from your work?

Hembree: One thing we have really learned and experimented with is the value of local change. Another huge lesson was setting a really broad table. We thought if we came to elected leaders and were able to demonstrate that there was a breadth of support for an issue that we would be successful, and we were right. We had over 150 organizations that endorsed the Tobacco 21 policy; there were business owners, physicians, nurses, schools, school districts and health care organizations.

Interact for Health: What accomplishments of Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City are you most proud of?

Hembree: Tobacco 21 is one of them. When we started our Tobacco 21 work, our goal was to pass Tobacco 21 in five communities by the end of 2018, and we ended up passing Tobacco 21 in 22 communities within 18 months of starting the project in October 2015. At this point, our service area -- the six counties surrounding Kansas City, Missouri -- is 90% covered by Tobacco 21 polices. There are still a handful of communities that have not enacted Tobacco 21 and we're definitely still working that issue in those communities.

Interact for Health: What about you work excites you or is most fulfilling?

Hembree: One of the most exciting things is when you are able to see something that has momentum and provide -- whether it is funding, expertise, training or technical assistance -- the resources to turn that momentum into something really serious. I think foundations are at their best when they are able to do that.

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