How can we build inclusive and healthy communities in St. Louis? Kristy Klein Davis, Chief Strategy Officer of the Missouri Foundation for Health, sat down with the Social Policy Institute to discuss the intersection of health and inclusive growth. This inclusive growth feature is one of a multi-part feature on how to support inclusive growth in St. Louis by our advisory committee for the Inclusive Growth in St. Louis Event Series.
To start us off, how does economic growth and development connect to health?
Research has proven the connection between wealth and health. It’s not the only thing but it sure is a driver. And there are really practical reasons for that. The ability to pay for medical services, to pay copays, to even have health insurance all lead to better health. But there are also other factors like access to good food, being able to live in safe neighborhoods and neighborhoods with clean air. Your personal ability to be a part of an economy is a strong driver of your ability to live in safe places and have access to resources. There are obvious ties.
Where do you think is the need for inclusive growth in the health sector?
People don’t have equal access to be part of a thriving economy and it impacts the ability we have to help lead happy healthy lives. The health sector is booming, it’s doing just fine, but we need to change the way it happens.
Medicaid is a good example. Expansion isn’t about growth in the traditional sense but expanding access to resources that people need to be able to be healthy and access healthcare. When people have equitable access to jobs that pay them a fair wage, or even better a great wage with health insurance and benefits, they are going to have greater access to health and outcomes.
We also have to separate out healthcare from health. We know that neighborhoods that haven’t been invested in don’t have the playgrounds and greenspace that kids can use to run around to be kids. We know that if parents are living in fear because their kids aren’t safe, then that impacts health of parents and the kids. When we invest in the well-being of neighborhoods people thrive.
So it’s not just traditional healthcare services but access to communities that support health.
Can you talk to me more about nontraditional health and what kind of services would be nontraditional healthcare?
Fruits and vegetables in schools, water filling stations at schools, playgrounds, and places for people (adults and children) to gather and be in community are all good examples. Being part of a community is a huge driver of your mental health. How happy you are, having friends, knowing people you can trust and rely on are all factors that aren’t traditional healthcare or services from medical professionals.
People don’t always think about connection to others as a health service, but it has an enormous impact on health and wellbeing. These can all tie into inclusive growth. We can support communities where people can access high-paying jobs so they aren’t turning to alternative sources of income to support their families. That creates places where I can sit on my porch, where I can walk at night and see my neighbor on their porch. If there is no sidewalk, no streetlights, it’s no longer safe for me and I am stuck in my house. It doesn’t even have to be as grand as a structure, at the very least it’s a lawn where kids can play a game of pickup football.
What are your thoughts on some of the solutions coming out of the inclusive growth series?
I think we need to have a conversation about short-term and long-term solutions and how to balance both of those priorities. Those two things can compete with each other sometimes.
We can come up with a lot of short-term solutions that don’t solve long-term problems. And yet focusing only on the long-term ignores the urgency of the issues.
I also think we need to be wary of leaving a generation behind. You see people asking a low-income mom “what do you dream for your child” but we should also be asking that mom “what are your dreams for yourself”. Adults have hopes, dreams and aspirations too. We will see greater prosperity when we address both, which points to the urgency of now and later.
We have all these people who are brilliant, but they haven’t been given the chance to gain the skills to get the jobs that will make use of their minds. We are losing out on their brilliance if we aren’t making those investments.
What do you think is one of the barriers to collaboration in St. Louis?
We have to acknowledge St. Louis is part of Missouri. We are part of a bigger infrastructure, so we can’t go down a path of isolating ourselves. We need to focus on St. Louis, but we have to think about how that fits into the broader geography where we sit. We have to acknowledge what that means.
In my work at the Missouri Foundation for Health, we see that in many ways Missouri is like a little microcosm of the country. We have progressive pockets that are getting more progressive, and we also have conversative areas that are getting more conservative. We have agricultural rural areas, industrial rural areas, major metropolitan cities, and everything in between. I’m worried about where increasing polarization leads us.
To make progress we have to find ways to be broader than ourselves. That doesn’t mean compromising our values but rather a willingness to genuinely listen to views that may differ from our own. We have to find solutions that are authentic to ourselves and don’t compromise our values, but that allow space for a multitude of views and experiences.
What does inclusive growth in St. Louis mean to you?
Everybody has an opportunity to be part of a thriving city. We have to focus on growth that is explicit in its intention to close racial equity gaps. It is about getting bigger and better but doing so in a way that everybody can participate in.
What do you imagine an inclusive growth-centered future would look like?
Your zip code not determining your years of life. How you get there is really complicated. But the idea isn’t anything super extraordinary. If everyone together says this is something we are going to take on, then I think it is possible.
About Kristy Klein Davis
Since joining Missouri Foundation for Health in 2010 to launch the highly successful and ongoing MoCAP program, Kristy Klein Davis has held positions of increasing responsibility at the Foundation including program officer, director of learning and effectiveness, and vice president of strategy and learning, before being named chief strategy officer in 2019. In her current role, she is responsible for developing an overall strategy built around the Foundation’s mission, values, and guiding principles, and reflected in a diverse portfolio of programs that address important health initiatives. Previously, she was associate director of education and outreach with the national office of the Alzheimer’s Association and in 2017, she was elected to serve a three-year-term on the Board of Education of Parkway Schools. Klein Davis was recognized as an up-and-coming leader with the St. Louis Business Journal “30 Under 30” Awards. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas and a Master of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis.