Dr. Bridget McCandless, the president and CEO of Health Forward, is retiring.

McCandless was on the board of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City for several years starting when it was formed in 2003. She became president and CEO in 2013. It changed its name to Health Forward two months ago to better reflect its overall mission.

“I have to say I’m as proud of being part of the foundation as anything I’ve done in my life,” she said Wednesday.

She plans to stay on while Health Forward looks for her successor.

McCandless, of Independence, is an internist who for 13 years was the medical director of the former Shared Care Free Clinic of Jackson County in Independence.

As CEO of Health Forward she helped lead the push for area cities, including Independence, to pass Tobacco 21 legislation that raised the legal age of tobacco sales. She has also been keen to promote a wider discussion about the issues across the community that affect individuals’ health.

“I think making sure that access is available to everyone is a critical piece,” she said.

She added that there’s a greater awareness these days of factors such as access to care and the presence of environmental pollution and how those things play out in disparate ways in well-off and poorer parts of the community.

“I think people are gaining an appreciation for everyday (factors) that contribute to health, and those things are not distributed equally,” she said.

McCandless also has been a forceful advocate for such steps as expanding Medicaid coverage to the estimated 300,000 Missourians – including tens of thousands in Jackson County – who lack any health coverage and who in most other states would get Medicaid. The Missouri General Assembly has refused to take up the idea.

“I’m going to tell you … that I live in hope that we can move from politics to people,” she said Wednesday.