With Sanford Health and Fairview Health Services planning to team up, leaders at the nonprofit health systems are already dreaming of strengthening communities together.
“At the heart of everything Sanford Health does is service to our patients, to our people and to our communities,” Bill Gassen, Sanford Health president and CEO, said.
“It’s why we exist as an organization. It’s something that sets us apart from others who are involved in the health care ecosystem. As a community-based, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, we take great pride in our opportunity and privilege to serve our communities.”
Over the years, employees at Sanford and Fairview have put in countless hours to forge trusted community partnerships in an effort to increase access to high quality, equitable health care. The goal is to meet everyone, no matter their background, where they’re at.
“It’s not ‘come tell our communities what they should be doing.’ It’s to engage with them, listen to them and then program to help support them,” said James Hereford, Fairview Health Services president and CEO.
There are many examples of that strategy for Sanford and Fairview.
One is the Fairview Community Health and Wellness Hub in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. The Hub is a first-of-its-kind center providing critical health care services and community resources alongside local partners. From food access to a cultural broker program, the Hub is making it easier for people to get what they need to be well. A wide range of behavioral health options are also available at the Hub.
‘Everything happens in community’
An often mobile squad predominantly made of nurses is coming and going from the Hub on a daily basis. Many pack up their supplies and head to local libraries, mosques or the Consulate of Mexico in St. Paul for MINI clinics. MINI stands for Minnesota Immunization Networking Initiative.
“This is our Hub but everything happens in community,” said Ingrid Johansen, senior manager of community clinical care for Fairview’s Community Advancement.
Fairview helps lead the MINI clinics, collaborating with 200 community partners to close the gap in immunization rates for communities of color and Native Americans in the Twin Cities metro. Hosting 20 clinics a week, Johansen’s team has given out nearly 10,000 flu vaccines at no cost this season. Another 56,000 COVID-19 vaccines have also been administered since the start of the pandemic.
“Fairview is a great resource to provide health professionals in order to offer services for the Mexican and Latino community,” said Oswaldo Cabrera, with the Consulate of Mexico in St. Paul.
Cabrera’s office is also familiar with Sanford Health and serves people in South Dakota and North Dakota in addition to Minnesota.
“We have had an opportunity to collaborate in one of the mobile units in Worthington, Minnesota, and I would like to say thank you to Sanford for supporting us and supporting migrant communities,” Cabrera said.
Food is medicine
A major social determinant of health is access to food. Both health systems are tackling food insecurity with innovative programs.
“We have a fantastic partner in Feeding South Dakota. We get about 1,700 pounds of food per week,” said Joe Segeleon, M.D., vice president, medical officer for Sanford Children’s in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Those who indicate a need for food during a discreet screening are given a bag of essentials before heading home from Sanford Children’s Hospital. Dr. Segeleon says the food pantry known as the Kid’s Kitchen is making a difference for families coming in for care.
“We are able to give them food for a couple of days or hygiene products. More importantly, our social workers also connect them with the resources that can help them in their communities,” Dr. Segeleon said.
Sanford’s Southwest Children’s Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota, distributed nearly 23,000 pounds of food from its wellness pantry in its first year in 2021.
“We’re seeing a much greater need than I think we anticipated,” Sanford social worker Maggie Luschen said. “I hope it gives them a sense of hope and a sense of peace and comfort during some of the most trying times of their lives.”
‘Thankful for what they’re doing’
Back at the Hub in St. Paul, Fairview partners with the Sanneh Foundation and others to bring nutrition to those struggling to find it.
“Fairview really prioritizes supporting our local food systems with our programs,” said Terese Hill, supervisor of food systems strategy for Fairview’s Community Advancement. “Thinking about it as treating symptoms and getting people healthy food while also working to transform the system that’s not working for so many in our communities. We contract with local growers, small BIPOC farmers that represent the diverse cultures that live in the Twin Cities.”
Some of the food packed at the Hub by Fairview and Sanneh goes to the Conway Community Center.
“Currently, we’re on the east side of St. Paul which has major food deserts,” said Brandon Griffin, with the Sanneh Foundation. “Not a lot of places where you can get fresh, nutritious and healthy foods. Really for that culturally specific foods.”
Sammy Stanley visits the food distribution at the center often. He’s one of more than 80 families it serves every week.
“I’d have to catch three buses just to get to this type of food,” Stanley said. “I can say, hey, I’m very grateful and I’m thankful for what they’re doing.”
‘Being respectful of the people we are’
Creating safe spaces for all people to receive care in a respectful manner is an ongoing effort for each health system.
At Sanford Behavioral Health in Bemidji, Minnesota, Mindie Bird and Joe Beaudreau lead an internationally certified Wellbriety program.
“There’s upwards of 20-25,000 Native Americans who live in this area,” Beaudreau, part of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, said.
“We have a lot of people coming here depending on health care, good health care, but also depending on being treated not just equal but being respectful of the people we are.”
A licensed addiction counselor originally from the Black Feet Nation in northern Montana, Bird says the Wellbriety program incorporates traditional Native American healing practices and not many non-Indigenous agencies have pursued certification.
“When I came here, Sanford was super amazing at saying, how do we do this? How do we become culturally responsive and how can we help you do that?” Bird said. “One of the first things I said is we have to make community here. We have to create a safe place for people to come here and experience the cultural connections that they’re familiar with.”
In addition to establishing cultural connections and building trust, Beaudreau, a former paramedic, says Sanford Health is also bringing specialty services to the rural area.
“In EMS, we would take individuals from our hospital here and transport them to a different hospital for a specialty service. We were doing that nonstop,” Beaudreau said. “Because we didn’t have a heart and vascular center like we do now. We didn’t have the orthopedics clinic that we have now, and we definitely didn’t have the cancer center that we have now.”
‘Giving the community hope’ through cultural brokers
Navigating the health care system, among other things, can be an incredible challenge for people with language and cultural barriers.
For the past five years, cultural brokers at Fairview have been connecting with Twin Cities community members to help them stay healthy, learn about the court system, file for social security and more.
Six brokers are serving five cultural communities in the Twin Cities. Those communities are African American, Hmong, Karen, American Indian and Latino.
Selene Mercado moved to the area from Mexico.
Mercado says the cultural brokers made her feel “that the help does exist, that help is here, that we’re not alone and that there really are people out there that really want to help us.”
“Not only is Fairview connecting with the community. It’s giving the community hope,” Jessica Moran, cultural broker for the Latino community, said.
Being there for the underserved, listening to them, and walking alongside those in need is why Lwepaw Kacher serves as the cultural broker for the Karen community of which she is a part.
“You have someone who understands you. You have someone who will speak for you. You have someone who will fight for you,” Kacher said.
“I want to serve my community. The community that needs help the most.”
Designed with partners from the community, the program is getting referrals from all over Minnesota.
Fairview director of community health programs Keith Allen says the nonprofit “wanted to get in front of understanding that health happens in community where you live, work, play and worship.”
‘At the heart of who we are’
Leaders at Sanford Health and Fairview Health Services say that commitment to community will only grow when the two systems come together.
“That is clearly not something we take lightly. This is not the place where you make money in health care. This is not largely a reimbursement-based activity. What we do is really at the heart of who we are as Fairview Health Services,” Hereford said.
Gassen adds, “That goes beyond the walls of our clinics, beyond the walls of our hospitals and our long-term care facilities, and it goes into the heart of our communities. Partnering with our schools, partnering with other not-for-profit organizations to make sure that we remove every barrier possible between people and the necessary care that they need to be successful and to live thriving lives in their communities.”
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