Dear Colleagues,

We are part of a special community here in mid-Missouri. Numerous civic groups are dedicated to solving a variety of challenges, including health disparities. In February, MU Health Care was able to host for the first time the Caring Communities Partnership meeting at Women’s Hospital. This is a dedicated group of African American faith and community leaders in our area who gather to help solve a variety of challenges in the community.

Our very own Karl Thomas, laboratory services supervisor and pastor of Second Missionary Baptist Church, emceed the event.

The group is led by Brian Williams, executive director of the Randolph County Caring Community. Members from a number of faith-based groups participated, including Rev. David Ballenger from Log Providence Missionary Baptist Church. The emphasis of this gathering was on COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.

Equitable access to safe and effective vaccines is critical to the health of our communities. It is certainly crucial to ending the COVID-19 pandemic. While we have made great progress, there is still much work to do. It is going to take community leaders and influencers to build trust and share evidence-based information around this important effort.

Dr. Christine Woods, director of the Bachelor of Social Work program in the MU School of Health Professions and owner of Crowned Counseling in Columbia, discussed the mental health toll the pandemic has taken on adults and children.

A panel from MU Health Care led an enlightening discussion on a variety of health care topics.

  • Dr. Laine Young-Walker, chair of the Department of Psychiatry, emphasized the burdens of mental health issues particularly on our youth.
  • Dr. Christelle Ilboudo, a pediatrician and infectious disease expert, discussed issues of masking and vaccination.
  • Teresa Brooks, senior director of revenue cycle, discussed Medicaid expansion and how the barrier to getting health care for many Missourians is now eliminated, however, the word has not gotten out yet to many in the community who could benefit.
  • Nikki McGruder, director of diversity, equity and inclusion, talked about her journey of joining MU Health Care in August 2020 during the pandemic and in the wake of the social issues emerging from the George Floyd murder.
It was great that MU Health Care hosted a Caring Communities Partnership meeting for the first time. We gathered in the Women’s Hospital conference center to share enlightening discussions on how to address health disparities.

I am very pleased that we are a part of the community fabric for improving health disparities. Through this event, we demonstrated to the Caring Communities Partnership that we are a partner with them for the long haul. These faith-based leaders will now go back to their churches and organizations with knowledge that they can share with their members.

I know we will always be ready to partner with them to improve the health of all Missourians.


Rick Barohn signature



Richard Barohn, MD
Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs
University of Missouri