About Us

Since our organization's establishment more than three decades ago, the Kansas Health Foundation has remained committed to addressing the health and wellness issues most impacting those in our state. Today, that commitment is stronger than ever. To learn more, we invite you to read on about our mission, vision, principles and people.

Our Mission

At the Kansas Health Foundation, all of our work centers on our mission: To improve the health of all Kansans. We envision a culture in which every Kansan can make healthy choices where they live, work and play.

The Kansas Health Foundation could never meet this mission without a broad network of effective partnerships across the state. We work closely with other health foundations, nonprofit groups, community foundations, state agencies, universities, hospitals, communities and advisory groups to develop programs and find answers to complex health issues. And we will continue to form and strengthen partnerships with more Kansas organizations and communities.

Thanks to the hard work of our grantees and the dedication of our Board of Directors and staff, much progress has already been made toward our mission of improving the health of our state. More challenges and hard work lie ahead, but we are committed to helping Kansans lead healthier lives for many generations to come.

Our History

The Kansas Health Foundation can trace its roots back to the 1985 sale of Wesley Medical Center.

At the time, Wesley was a nonprofit hospital associated with the United Methodist Church. Facing many changes in the health care industry, hospital and community leaders helped shape a vision: The hospital’s resources could be used to prevent disease instead of waiting to treat it once it occurs. This led to Wesley being sold to the for-profit Hospital Corporation of America (HCA).

The sale’s profits went to two organizations focused on improving health in the state: the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund and the Wesley Medical Endowment Foundation (now the Kansas Health Foundation).

With a $200 million endowment and a focus on improving the health of all Kansans, our Foundation set out to make a difference across the state.

The Early Years

The large endowment from Wesley’s sale earned the Kansas Health Foundation a spot on the list of the 40 largest grant-making foundations in the country, and it ranked as one of the top 10 U.S. health-care foundations at that time.

From the beginning, this organization endeavored to make a long-term impact on our state’s health. Some of our first grants went to establish Kansas LEAN (Low-Fat Eating for America Now), a statewide program aimed at reducing fat in Kansans’ diets, and the Breast Cancer Detection Project at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita.

Shortly after its formation, the organizational name changed to the Wesley Foundation and early focus areas included biomedical research, improving pregnancy outcomes and improving services for the rural elderly.

But a long-term vision still needed to be established, and it was time to work directly with the people of Kansas to determine where the greatest opportunities for impact may lie. In 1988, the organization held town-hall style meetings in 40 communities across Kansas. That feedback, as well as subsequent listening tours, influenced our strategic plan for many years. Instead of funding medical research, our foundation adopted a “back to the basics” plan, developing and supporting major initiatives in areas including public health, leadership and health policy.

A Full Decade of Change

In the 1990s, favorable investment climates allowed our organization’s asset base to flourish. Our grantmaking expanded accordingly, averaging about $15 million annually.

The organization also settled on a permanent name–the Kansas Health Foundation–to reflect an emphasis on all regions of state. With the additional financial resources made available, KHF’s
work spread more broadly across Kansas as interlocking programs were designed to touch many lives. As the organization’s geographic focus shifted, so did its priority funding areas, which by the early part of the decade included health promotion/disease prevention, rural health, elderly health and strengthening health professions.

Among the important milestones from this decade were:

  • An increased emphasis on public health let to the establishment or support for Masters in Public Health programs at the state’s largest universities.
  • More than $15 million was provided for a project at the University of Kansas School of Medicine that aimed to increase the number of primary care physicians in Kansas and improve the distribution of health care services.
  • In looking to increase the effectiveness of youth health efforts, KHF launches Physical Dimensions, a wellness-oriented physical education program for students. The program is later expanded to include all students K-12.
  • The first grant is awarded to Kansas Action for Children (KAC), now the state’s foremost advocacy organization for Kansas children.
  • In 1995, KHF established the Kansas Health Institute, an organization located in the state’s capital driven by the mission to improve the health of all Kansans by supporting effective policymaking, engaging at the state and community levels and by providing nonpartisan, actionable data and information.
  • “Let’s Take It Outside,” KHF’s first health communication media campaign urging adults to keep cigarette smoke away from children, wins a Public Service Emmy.

And as the decade was ending, two of the organization’s most notable programs were launched – the Kansas Community Leadership Initiative (KCLI) and the Giving Resources to Our World (GROW) Healthy Kansas Initiative. KCLI helped hundreds of Kansans in more than 40 communities to learn a new approach to leadership. Armed with those new skills, these leaders have made their towns better and healthier places to live. Now in its second decade, GROW is a very successful program meant to support and build community foundations across our state. Though both of these program began nearly 20 years ago, they live on today making a positive impact in Kansas.

New Millennium, Same Commitment

With 15 years of experience in the rear-view mirror, KHF looked to take advantage of lessons learned and also keep pace with the changing demographics of the state. Some programs, such as the Masters in Public Health (MPH) degrees, the GROW community foundation effort, and the KCLI community-based program continued into this decade.

For other programs, the 2000s marked a starting point.

Here are some of the highlights of 2000-2009:

  • “Turn a Page, Touch a Mind” is launched in partnership with the Kansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. At 75 sites across the state, children six months to five years of age are given an age-appropriate book to read with their parents each time they visit their physician.
  • In 2005, KHF announces plans to start the Kansas Leadership Center, an organization dedicated to civic leadership development for Kansans. Following the success of the Kansas Health Institute in providing nonpartisan health policy data, KHF determined the best way to continue a tradition of high-quality leadership programs was through the founding of this new organization.
  • The Leadership and Faith initiative is launched with a $1 million grant to the Kansas Area Conference of the United Methodist Church to revitalize the United Methodist Church in Kansas, enhance its commitment to social justice and focus on public health issues in communities.

As the decade came to a close, longtime KHF staff member Steve Coen was promoted to President and CEO, making him the fourth individual to assume that position in the organization’s history.

New Decade, New Opportunities

As 2010 began, the Foundation celebrated its 25th anniversary of working to improve the health of all Kansans. To commemorate the milestone, Dr. Richard Carmona, the 17th Surgeon General of the United States, was invited to address more than 300 Kansans on the importance of public health and health behaviors in the face of a rapidly changing environment.

Dr. Carmona’s call to action became a rallying cry for KHF looking to make an impact on an even more impactful scale. The organization recommitted its efforts to addressing the social determinants of health, such as education, income, race/ethnicity. Health disparities became a major program area, as did an emphasis on the importance of civic health.

Here are just a few of the pivotal events and efforts that have happened so far this decade.

  • With Kansans spending more and more time at work, in 2011 KHF launches a statewide worksite wellness initiative called WorkWell Kansas. This effort encouraged employers to create healthy environments for their employees.
  • Ground is broken on the 36,000-square-foot Kansas Leadership Center and Kansas Health Foundation Conference Center. This building, which opened in 2013, houses the Kansas Leadership Center offices and features an auditorium and multiple conference rooms for convenings.
  • KHF formalizes a partnership with the Kansas State Department of Education to implement healthy eating and active living policies in Kansas schools.
  • For the first time, KHF’s assets and the total grants awarded since inception both exceed $500 million.
  • In 2014, KHF, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and the Kansas State Department of Education announce the results of a KHF-funded study indicating, on average, students who are physically fit score above standard on Kansas state assessments in reading and math and miss fewer days of school.
  • Utilizing the new KLC-KHF Conference Center, the Inaugural Kansas Health Foundation Symposium draws more than 160 Kansans.
  • Twenty (20) communities in Kansas have participated in the Healthy Communties Initiative (HCI) to focus on local policy efforts related to healthy eating and active living.
  • KHF changes its tax status from a private foundation to a public charity. Due to this change, KHF has become more active in the policy arena, and today has policy priorities focusing on access to care, child nutrition efforts and oral health care.

Though this decade is still in full swing, perhaps the most significant moment to date came in 2015, when, following a year-long strategic planning process, KHF announced its first vision statement: “We envision a culture in which every Kansan has the opportunity to make healthy choices where they live, work and play.”

In line with this new vision statement, KHF announced its two primary program areas as Civic Health and Health Equity. This has led to a number of exciting, community-based initiatives focusing on underserved populations:

  • The Community Engagement Initiative (CEI) provides five Kansas communities with funding to target specific neighborhood improvement efforts.
  • Statistically, Kansans who have been diagnosed with a severe or persistent mental illness are more than twice as likely to smoke. KHF has funded a number of organizations to work specifically with individuals wanting to quit smoking.
  • Through the Health Equity Partnership Initiative (HEPI), 10 organizations are receiving funding to address specific health equity-related issues in their communities and regions.

Guiding Principles

The Board of Directors set forth the following core values of the Kansas Health Foundation:


We care about the health of all Kansans.


We believe in taking a proactive approach to grantmaking and that promoting systemic change through population-based approaches is the most effective strategy for improving health.


We seek to maintain an environment and atmosphere of diversity and inclusion – in governance, staff and partners. We honor the diverse needs, strengths, voices and backgrounds of all individuals in our state.


We will be good stewards of the resources in which we have been entrusted to address issues today, and to benefit generations to come. We are committed to the highest ethical standards in governance, administration and grantmaking.


We pledge to be open and honest. We will highlight our successes, failures and lessons learned.


We realize we will be successful in meeting our mission when we listen to and build solid partnerships across sectors.


We understand that communities are best positioned to identify and respond to their unique health needs and believe in building community capacity and resources to address those needs.


We support and participate in activities that inform and advance effective health policy. We vow to lead by example and model the policies, practices and programs we support.

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Every month, our electronic newsletter, Health Happenings, features a story about a focus area, grant, partnership or program involving the Foundation.