Health Literacy Missouri (HLM) has received a $119,000 grant from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City (HCF) to work with partners at Truman Medical Center Behavioral Health (TMC) to integrate health literacy best practices into their daily practices. 
 
“This project will extend health literacy best practices to TMC Behavioral Health,” said Kirby Randolph, Ph.D., TMC Behavioral Health Director or Workforce Development. “Strong communication with patients, particularly around medication management and disease education, is significant and pressing.” 
 
HLM will provide training on health literacy best practices to physicians and clinicians who work with about 18,000 people with mental illness and substance abuse disorders that TMC serves each year. The project will include in-depth training sessions in written and verbal communications; plain language editing and review of clinical forms and documents; content creation for new disease and medication-specific brochures in plain language, and health environment assessments of five TMC facilities to ensure best practices are present in signage and other aspects of facility navigation. 
 
“Health Literacy Missouri and TMC share a common goal to help the uninsured population, and this partnership provides a unique opportunity to marry the strengths of the two organizations,” said Dr. Catina O’Leary, president and CEO of Health Literacy Missouri. “This grant allows us to reach more Kansas City residents who are in need of our services. Closing the gap between patient skills and the demands of the health system is particularly critical to improving outcomes for those challenged by mental health conditions.”
 
Research has shown that three out of five people with serious and persistent mental illness die from a preventable disease because they have trouble managing their chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma. People with serious mental illness are much more likely to have multiple chronic medical conditions than the general population. 
 
They are also less likely to receive needed treatment because their mental illnesses interfere with concentration, organization and persistence. The human cost is severe: For example, 60 percent of premature deaths in people with schizophrenia are due to medical conditions such as cardiovascular, pulmonary and infectious diseases. According to a landmark study led by Dr. Joe Parks, Director of MO HealthNet, people with serious mental illness die 25 years earlier than the general population. 
 
Health risks for those with serious and persistent mental illness are profoundly rooted in health literacy issues. More than 90 million people in the United States—and 1.6 million in Missouri—have difficulty understanding and using basic health information, according to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL). The issue is even more difficult for people with cognitive impairments such as fearfulness, social instability, stigma, cognitive difficulties and disorganized thinking. Health literacy practices, such as using plain language to communicate more clearly, have been shown to help cognitively challenged patients to more easily follow treatment recommendations, leading to better health outcomes.