Community health workers make inroads in MN

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It’s been three years since Covid-19 cases first surfaced. While doctors and nurses have treated those patients, community health workers continued to elevate their role in Minnesota to make sure other health needs were met.

Shawn McKinney is a community health worker in South Minneapolis. According to McKinney, she and her colleagues serve as a bridge between patients and the healthcare system. She noted that she often helps those who have experienced homelessness, or who have trouble accessing medication.

From reminding them about their appointments to helping with transportation, these workers want to ensure marginalized patients can navigate the healthcare maze more easily. “I know I’m successful when a patient does not need me anymore,” said McKinney, “and that should be the goal.”

McKinney recently became a board member of the American Heart Association of Minnesota. In that role, she said she wants to bring a face to community health workers so that the public—as well as decision-makers, get a better sense of their contributions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that there are more than one thousand community health workers employed in Minnesota.

The American Heart Association’s Vice President for Health Strategies Justin Bell said during the pandemic, these workers have played a crucial role in helping certain community health centers work with patients to reduce their blood pressure.

He said efforts through telehealth have paid off in trying to reduce cardiovascular risks.
“There’s a piece missing thereof follow-up,” said Bell, “and then being able to contract with community health workers was what allowed them to cause that gap to close.”

Bell said having McKinney on their board hopefully will lead to more opportunities to find health solutions at the community level.

Minnesota is the first state with a wide-ranging competency-based community health worker educational program offered in post-secondary schools. The curriculum is currently being used in five other states.

Mike Moen writes for the Minnesota News Connection.

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