Two start-ups with local ties are working to help address racism and lessen its impact on the health of Minnesota’s communities of color.
Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) has taken a role in increasing Minnesotan’s access to these products.
“We declared racism a public health crisis, and that happened in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, the sort of overwhelming evidence and experience of disproportionate and impact of folks of color with COVID 19,” said Bukata Hayes, the vice president of racial and health equity at BCBS. (Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is a funder of the MinnPost Race & Health Equity beat. It plays no role in editorial decisions.)
Black women and health disparities
Health in Her HUE is working to help reduce health disparities for Black women and women of color. Its website has a directory of ethnically concordant and culturally sensitive providers, intended to increase health outcomes for women of color.
“We know that cultural concordance and care have shown benefits right to health outcomes. Health in her HUE provides that cultural concordance, racial concordance in sort of intervention and care that we believe is important in closing some longstanding health inequities and health gaps,” Hayes said.
The company also has a community forum and a virtual care squad, a peer support group experience where women discuss a health topic and are led through a curriculum that a clinician has developed.
Eddwina Bright, the chief co-founder and chief product officer of Health in Her HUE, became involved because of a negative experience she had while giving birth. She said that the providers didn’t include her much in the process because they made assumptions about her.
“I feel like they immediately saw me, you know, as this Black woman, overweight, first pregnancy,” she said. “I would ask questions, and they were like, ‘oh, you don’t need to worry about that. You don’t understand it, so it doesn’t matter.'”
The entire experience felt dismissive, she said.
“They broke my water and didn’t tell me until hours later. It’s things like that where I just felt goaded into the C-section. I felt very dismissed.”
The site’s directory aims to reduce those instances that cause harm to patients.
The company is based in New York but reaches nationally, with users and providers from different states. BCBS reached out to the creators and wanted to work with them to address the needs of women in Brooklyn Center, Bright said.
The company is sponsoring memberships for around 200 women from the north metro suburb. A typical subscription to the platform costs $12.99 per month or $120 annually.
The kickoff event is on Aug. 20 at the Earle Brown Heritage Center, 6155 Earle Brown Dr. in Brooklyn Center, where women can sign up and receive the one-year premium membership.
The site also has some free features, including the provider directory and limited access to personalized content. The premium account gives unlimited access to the free features and also access to an event series, which cover different health and wellness topics.
If the Brooklyn Center members like the product, Bright said there’s a chance it could be a part of the BCBS’s Minnesota offering.
Currently, the directory has more than 1,000 providers across 60 specialties. While it emphasizes Black providers, the company wants to also highlight culturally sensitive providers who can help with the workload.
“Our focus is not on building a racially segregated healthcare system and nor should the onus of Black patients’ outcomes lie squarely on the shoulders of black doctors,” Bright said.
Combating police violence
Turn Signl is an app that aims to stop police violence. The app connects users to a trained attorney to offer consultation and de-escalation tactics during a traffic stop.
“We thought it was a really innovative way of addressing that in-the-moment interaction between a civilian and law enforcement,” Hayes said. “We view it as part of mental health mitigation in the moment of that traffic stop. Their lawyers are trained in de-escalation, their lawyers understand traffic law and to have someone at that moment being able to assist with lowering stress, de-escalating and providing technical assistance is really important.”
Turn Signl came from the founders’ relationship with Philando Castile and his family. Two of the founders, Andre Creighton and Mychal Frelix, used to play sports with Castile. After police killed Castile in Falcon Heights in 2016 during a “routine” traffic stop, the idea began to sprout.
The murder of George Floyd reinforced the idea and need for such an app, Jazz Hampton, one of the co-founders, said. In the fall of 2020, all three of them left their jobs and started Turn Signl.
“After Philando and then George Floyd, there seemed to be a critical mass of awareness around the need to deescalate these interactions to get everyone home safely, but without a clear plan on how to do that,” Hampton said.
If someone gets in an accident or are pulled over, users can press a button on the app, and the interaction starts being recorded with the front-facing camera. The user also gets connected to an attorney by video conference.
The attorneys, which Turn Signl currently has more than 100, are trained in third-party de-escalation and specific areas of law the user needs help.
As of now, each month, there are around 50 incidents where the service is used, Hampton said. BCBS is sponsoring some accounts in Minnesota so that people who can’t afford them can have access.
The subscription to the app is $6.99 a month or $60 a year. For people below an income threshold, there is an option to use the app for free without needing to show income verification.
“We don’t want anyone’s financial situation dictating whether or not they can feel safe when they’re driving,” Hampton said. “I, as the co-founder as an attorney, as a Black lawyer, I don’t want anyone deciding whether they’re gonna buy milk for their family or pay a monthly subscription for Turn Signl.”
The app has around 20,000 downloads and operates in California, Georgia, Florida, Minnesota and Tennessee. Around half of the users are from Minnesota.
“It’s a great opportunity to know your rights and to be able to protect them and to invoke that at a time when you need it,” said Hampton.
For officers, Hampton says knowing someone is using the app provides relief.
“When they see a Turn Signl bumper sticker, we want them to feel safer in that interaction than they do any other interaction they have that day,” he said. “The analogy I always use is the Ring doorbell. When you walk up to someone’s house and press the Ring doorbell, you know that everyone is going to be on their best behavior. And the same is true with Turn Signl.”
BCBS is financially supporting access to these two platforms in the Twin Cities, describing it as “pilot work.” Their funding helps cover some of the costs and reduce the barriers preventing people from accessing these services.
“I don’t want the impression to be that we’re simply just putting money into it. We’re putting much more than that. I think our connection to community, our network and our influence that we’ve also invested is just as much as the dollars that we’re investing,” Hayes said. “We believe it’s a sizeable amount that allows us to pilot both of these opportunities and other opportunities, and that we are able to then learn some things and amplify it out.”