2021 Innovators & Influencers Honoree: Niki Lee Donawa

The Kansas City metro has tens of thousands of fascinating citizens within its population of 2.34 million. Talented, passionate people are drawn here—or remain in this vibrant, 15-city region—for the arts, sports, music scene, and its generosity, both in spirit and philanthropy.

Distilling those numbers to highlight just nine individuals and one couple was quite the editorial trick. Some made the list based on career excellence; a few for how they deftly pivoted during the pandemic to serve the needs of others. Like true creatives, two of our profiles could have starred in more than one category, bridging charity and music, art and fashion and technology. 

With great pride, we introduce you to our Healthcare honoree, Niki Lee Donawa.

Photo by Tom Styrkowicz

Healthcare | Niki Lee Donawa

She’s not a doctor, nor a nurse. But Niki Lee Donawa was definitely at the front lines of Kansas City’s Covid-19 pandemic. As chief community relations officer for Truman Medical Centers and University Health, she and her team had to nimbly adjust their 2020/2021 health and wellness plans to handle the crisis.

Making the situation even more drastic was the knowledge that the communities they serve were especially at risk. TMC’s Community Health Strategies & Innovations (CHS&I) team began providing essential services within a month after the virus hit.

They were the first in the community to offer drive-through testing and the first to set up vaccine clinics in those ZIP codes most devastated by the disease, opening 40 sites by May of 2021.

“An important element of our role during that time—as always—was to establish trust and accessibility, meeting individuals where they are,” says Niki. That accessibility refers to educational materials as well. CHS&I tailored the materials to a 5th-grade reading level or below and utilized images and multiple languages to address minority community members.

Her team’s combination of strategic tools and compassionate care didn’t go unnoticed. Truman Medical Centers/University Health president and CEO Charlie Shields says, “Niki Donawa has a unique ability to connect Kansas Citians in a way that benefits everyone. For about a decade she has led a mighty team dedicated to meeting the people of this city where they are—making education, nutrition, and healthcare more accessible to them.

“This pandemic has highlighted that hard work, as her team has been on the front lines offering tailored Covid prevention education, testing, and vaccines to the community. Her leadership and ability to bring together the people of Kansas City has been invaluable.”

While the pandemic’s urgency has slowed, it’s far from over. TMC will continue to be at the forefront of care.

In the meantime, Niki’s team is gearing up to provide its holistic approach to preventative wellness—several of which were on hold during the crisis.

When safe to do so, TMC will once again reach out to the community. One example is the Healthy Harvest Mobile Market, which includes educating the public about proper nutrition and distributing fresh fruits and vegetables to those wouldn’t normally have access.

Two other key programs are Women’s Health and the Healthy Start Initiative. The Healthy Start program helps mothers-to-be feel valued and respected. “They form bonds while they attend prenatal classes to learn about caring for their babies and themselves,” Niki says.

Niki realizes she and her team couldn’t do their important work without strong partners, including Black Health Care Coalition, Guadalupe Centers, and Nurture KC. She also names three philanthropic organizations that have “contributed greatly to our vital programs including Health Forward Foundation, the Hall Family Foundation, and the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation.” Then she adds with the grace and gratitude her colleagues know well, “and too many more to name!”

Read about the other 2021 Innovators & Influencers honorees here.