Community Context

Finney County is a rural community with a diverse population: over three-quarters of public-school students are people of color and over 22 percent of residents are foreign born. Garden City is the county seat and where most of the county population lives. The main industries are food processing and agriculture, which account for 30 percent of total employment in the county. Meat processing is the largest employer in this sector, primarily through Tyson Foods, followed by the public school system and the hospital. 

The county’s political leaders consist of five commissioners who have consistently leaned conservative, while the state of Kansas now has a Democratic governor after two Republican governors led the state from 2011 to 2019. The state remains one of 12 that has not yet adopted Medicaid expansion, though the governor is advocating for it. Access to healthcare is a challenge, particularly for non-U.S. citizens, as 37 percent of non-citizens lack health insurance, and a provider shortage in the region is affecting all residents. Over one-third (38 percent) of Finney County residents are overweight or obese and 24 percent report being in fair or poor health. The county also has high sexually transmitted infection rates and teen-birth rates.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, while cases in the county remained fairly low, the Tyson Foods plant, which remained open throughout the pandemic, experienced several outbreaks. However, the impact was quickly mitigated by fast action on the part of the company to implement safety procedures and testing.

Finney County’s Journey to Promote Health, Well-Being, and Equity

Five years into the Sentinel Communities Surveillance Project, LiveWell Finney County has solidified its role as a trusted leader for health in the community.

Other leadership comes from the health department and various other nonprofits and local businesses. Stakeholders in Finney County were working on several initiatives to support well-being of community residents in 2017, focused on positive health behaviors and supporting youth and working families, many of which have continued and evolved over the past five years. New efforts have been initiated to address mental health and improve access to healthcare. With regard to the health narrative in Finney County, over the past five years, stakeholders began investing more intentionally in the built environment to promote health, though the focus has remained on encouraging healthy behaviors. With regard to health equity, Finney County became more intentionally focused on meeting the acute needs of historically under-resourced populations, while also increasing access to health-promoting amenities for the community at-large.

Lessons Learned: Where is Finney County Five Years Later?

Finney County’s journey to promote health, well-being, and equity is one that illustrates a slow evolution of a focus on health education and awareness-raising to one that considers the role of the built environment. Existing engagement with historically under-resourced communities has deepened, with more services available and additional partners providing support, though these residents are still not empowered or visible to political leaders and true commitments to equity have not been made. Other communities can learn from Finney County’s approaches to make these changes, as well as the challenges they encountered, to inform their own journeys. And as COVID-19 recovery continues, with historic funding flowing to local communities, future research could consider the ways prevailing narratives related to health, equity, and well-being influences community health decisions moving forward.

Finney County has leveraged its primary coalition for health, as well as the opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, to elevate health- and well-being-related issues in the community. Yet governance and financial challenges and a transitional population have made it difficult to create momentum to make significant progress on health.

Facilitators:

  • Single coalition enhances coordination

  • Novel communication strategies help to reach residents

  • Pandemic-related expansion of health care and attention to communities experiencing vulnerability

Barriers: 

  • Lack of representation of diverse community

  • Lack of public health capacity

  • Lack of nonprofit capacity

  • Challenges to consistent community engagement