What does it mean to be the only health care system for children in Minnesota?
“This means families trust us to be their child experts. And that responsibility extends far beyond our hospital walls.”
That’s the perspective of Adriene Thornton, director of health equity at Children’s Minnesota, the state’s only pediatric health system.
Each year, thousands of families come to Children’s Minnesota for highly specialized medicine, from childhood cancer treatment to trauma and rare diseases. And the team delivers: Children’s Hospital Minnesota has more specialists in more disciplines than any other system of care in the region.
But childhood health is more than just medical expertise, according to health system leaders.
“We truly believe that we have a duty to lead in advocating for the well-being of all Minnesota children so that every child in our community has the opportunity to achieve optimal health,” Thornton says.
For Adriene and other leaders in the nonprofit healthcare system, that means supporting policies that support healthy, happy childhoods and addressing social determinants of health like poverty, lack of education, food insecurity, racism and language barriers.
Recognizing that much of a person’s health is determined by such social factors, Children’s Minnesota founded the Community Health Collective in 2022. Its goal: to improve the health of children and families – both inside and outside hospital walls – by collaborating with community partners and hospital walls. other organisms.
The collective supports Children’s Minnesota’s partnerships in many ways, including not only formal advocacy but also connecting families with social and legal services to meet health-related needs (such as food, shelter, legal support).
The collective is already making a difference: During the 2023 Minnesota session, the legislative advocacy team partnered with community organizations and associations to pass policies that benefit children and families, such as a new law giving Minnesota students free school lunches. The team also successfully advocated for passage of the CROWN Act, which protects against discrimination based on a person’s hair style or texture.
Childhood health equity requires expertise, data, and intent. That’s why the Minnesota Children’s Leadership Team developed a pediatric health equity dashboard to identify and respond to disparities in processes and patient outcomes. Launched in 2018, the tool allows clinical leaders to formally address implicit, institutional and structural biases that impact quality of care by measuring gaps that have serious impacts on patient families.
Data from the dashboard found, for example, that Black children living in underserved neighborhoods in the Twin Cities experience significant health disparities and are less likely to have well-controlled asthma and to complete routine childhood immunizations. Rates of adolescent mental health screenings are also significantly lower. In response, Children’s Minnesota is partnering with United Health Group to provide culturally responsive health interventions with existing community partners and local public school districts, specifically targeting asthma management, vaccines, and mental health.
A serious barrier to equitable care, especially for Minnesota’s immigrant population, is language. Children’s Minnesota offers free interpreting services in more than 70 languages, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are also bilingual patient advocates who collaborate with families on a longer care journey to navigate a complex and unfamiliar healthcare system.
For advocates like Patricia Santos, who supports Spanish-speaking families seeking care from the Cancer and Blood Disorders program at Children’s Minnesota, the role goes beyond just translating. She is the defender of the whole family. In some cases, she works with undocumented parents who are struggling not only with their children’s illnesses but also with major cultural, social and linguistic barriers. She considers it an honor to walk alongside families on their journey, no matter how complex it may be.
For Thornton, who began her career as a nurse and infection preventionist, the upcoming flu season is another opportunity to make a difference in health equity. She leads mobile vaccine clinics that travel around the Twin Cities to reach people who wouldn’t normally make clinic appointments for flu shots.
“Equality offers vaccination appointments at our clinics to everyone. Equality realizing that not everyone can benefit from these clinics, and then going out into the community and providing what they need, when they need it, how they need it, where they need it.”
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