It’s simple: When it comes to health and health care, many in Minnesota’s immigrant communities are left behind. Study after study points to language and cultural barriers, social determinants of health, and access to convenient and affordable health care as reasons health disparities in Minnesota are among the worst in the nation. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. But when it comes to addressing these issues in the Cedar-Riverside community, there are promising steps forward.
The case incidence of the deadly COVID-19 virus among white people is 746 per 100,000 residents, according to State of Minnesota data. Among Black Minnesotans, the rate is more than five times higher – or 4,016 per 100,000 residents. Unfortunately, these kinds of racial disparities in health outcomes exist throughout the continuum of health care.
Deep partnerships needed
We must do better. That means health care organizations need to build deep, meaningful partnerships with communities of color to truly understand the issues and needs facing these communities. They need to expand access to health education, disease prevention measures, and health care.
The idea of “doing with, not to” – in other words, acting in partnership with local groups to better serve our communities – is at the heart of M Health Fairview’s community advancement effort. M Health Fairview has a longstanding partnership with Minnesota’s East African community, particularly in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. We continually collaborate with community members and groups.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, M Health Fairview implemented a “GetWell Loop” that connects Somali-speaking medical volunteers with Somali patients as they get assessments and follow-up care. We deployed a “Swab Squad” to Cedar-Riverside neighborhood housing to help patients with mobility issues get tested for COVID-19. We partnered with the Dunwoody Institute to distribute over 9,000 protective masks in this neighborhood.
More good news is happening. M Health Fairview and its Health Commons partners, Augsburg University, East Africa Health Project and People’s Center Clinics & Services, are opening an expanded and enhanced “Health Commons” space in the Riverside Plaza complex. The Health Commons has been a valued community asset for many years, and the new space will provide further opportunities to partner with community members to improve health and well-being. The Health Commons will include clinical space and feature a full-time Somali-speaking community nurse to coordinate care and make health-improving referrals to various community organizations. Sherman Associates owns and manages the Riverside Plaza and is generously donating the space for this important community use.
Mental health and addiction services
The space will also feature mental health and addiction services, in the form of a peer support specialist and care coordinator. Additionally, it will provide access to telehealth resources, where members of the community can get many medical needs served via an online computer-enabled “virtual visit” with a doctor or nurse.
After the COVID-19 pandemic ends and gathering in larger groups subsequently becomes safe again, the Health Commons also will continue to offer its health-related classes and other programs, as well as an outdoor gathering space for the community to use. Many of these programs have transitioned to a virtual format over the last few months. The main Health Commons space is not yet completed and will be co-designed with Health Commons participants and community members.
There is always more work that we can and must do to improve the health of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and many of the communities we serve. We know that the pandemic has been a particularly difficult time for all COVID-19 patients. Because of the extremely high risk of spreading the deadly virus to other vulnerable people, these patients haven’t been able to have their families present with them during treatments in our hospitals and clinics. We understand that approach, while necessary for the health of our communities, has been extremely confusing and frustrating to many.
Though protecting patients, families, and caregivers from infection is a medical must, we have received many constructive suggestions from the community about how we can better work with families during the pandemic. This includes making video calls more frequently available to families, and regularly updating families on their loved ones’ health status. As a health care organization, M Health Fairview is dedicated to emerging from this pandemic a truly better organization. To help us get there, we welcome your input.
M Health Fairview is continually seeking to improve our patient experience and provide accessible, affordable health care for everyone in our communities. We’re proud of our efforts to provide culturally sensitive care to Minnesota’s immigrant communities, particularly those who we recognize have been disproportionately affected by lack of access to the care they need. With community input, we’re dedicated to doing better to eliminate health disparities once and for all.
Nawal Hirsi is the engagement manager of Community Advancement, M Health Fairview.
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