KU alumnus leads charge for improving health in rural Kansas

Posted on Sep 25, 2017 in Alumni News, Career/Life, and News

David Toland: KU alumnus leads charge for improving health in rural Kansas

When faced with decreasing populations and poor health ratings, a Kansas county rallied together to take control of their future.

David Toland, c’99, g’01, serves as executive director of Thrive Allen County, a nonprofit coalition that works to improve the quality of life and economic conditions in Allen County, Kansas.

Toland joined the organization in 2008, when Allen County was ranked 94th out of 105 Kansas counties in overall health by the County Health Rankings. The county of 13,000 came together at a series of town halls and reached a common goal: to become the healthiest rural county in the state.

Now the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has recognized Toland and Allen County’s work as a Culture of Health prize winner. The award honors eight communities making great strides in their journey toward better health.

“It means so much to the people of this community to have their hard work recognized at a national level,” Toland said in response to the award. “It’s an important part of the emotional fuel that people need to keep doing the work.”

County projects

While the work to reach the top continues, the results already in place are stunning.

The county re-purposed an old school bus as the MARV—Meals And Reading Vehicle—which provides a healthy meal and books to read for students during the summer. Miles of biking and hiking trails constructed largely by volunteers have proven so popular that a Kansas City bike shop opened a new location on Iola’s main street. And after a proposal to raise the local sales tax to help build a hospital passed with 72% approval, the Allen County Regional Hospital opened in 2013 with Brian Neely, c’08, MD’12, m’16 as the doctor.

“Something special is happening in Allen County — we are fundamentally changing, for the better, how we live,” said Toland. “And we will keep steadily and quietly working toward our goal: being the healthiest rural county in Kansas.”

“The people in Allen County work hard, but in a quiet way. They don’t seek fancy recognitions or awards or acknowledgments. They know that we are facing difficult odds.”

Read the article or watch the video the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation created that captures Allen County’s work towards creating a culture of health.

-Ryan Camenzind

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