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Community Health Workers Make Inroads in MN


Monday, December 19, 2022   

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 are met.

Shawn McKinney is a community health worker in South Minneapolis who said she and her colleagues serve a bridge between patients and the health-care system.

She said she's often helping 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 health-care 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 for 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 decisionmakers, get a better sense of their contributions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says 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 there of follow-up," said Bell, "and then being able to contract with community health workers was what allowed them to cause that gap to close."

He 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.

Disclosure: American Heart Association of Minnesota contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Smoking Prevention. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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