The 2017 Minnesota Statewide Health Assessment and the College Health Corps VISTAs

January 16, 2018

According to the 2017 Minnesota Statewide Health Assessment, created by the Minnesota Department of Health and the Healthy Minnesota Partnership, about 235,000 people in Minnesota live more than 10 miles away from a large grocery store or supermarket and almost 900,000 live in lower-income communities with inadequate grocery store access. Brightside Produce, in partnership with the University of St. Thomas is working to combat these numbers. Brightside Produce is a self-sustaining business model where fresh food is sold to corner stores and any produce that is not sold is bought back by Brightside and sold to St. Thomas students, faculty, staff, and supporters. This ensures no food is wasted and the corner store owners are not having to buy expensive food that may not sell. VISTA member, Jadea Washington is working with Brightside to expand their reach by moving into other areas of the metro and beyond. Brightside Produce currently serves 22 local stores and it is estimated that in a span of two months 4,400 individuals had access to fresh fruits and vegetables where they didn’t before thanks to Brightside.

Many of the College Health Corps VISTAs are serving in higher education institutions where they’re working to offer access to food shelves on campuses. Kritika Singh, VISTA member at University of Minnesota Rochester is working on creating a mobile food shelf for students on campus. She’s begun planting the idea and has met with representatives from a food bank to discuss a partnership. Andrew Carlson, the VISTA at North Hennepin Community College is beginning a collaborative planning process between the college and the Community Emergency Assistance Programs of Brooklyn Center to create a mobile market food shelf. As many of the College Health Corps VISTAs work to eliminate food insecurity and food deserts they are also working to combat Minnesota’s rank as fourth-worst in the nation for the grocery gap (Minnesota Department of Health, 2017).

As stated in the Health Assessment, Minnesotans with more education are much more likely to be employed, are less likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, are more likely to receive prenatal care, and are less likely to smoke. Clearly, education is an important factor in shaping circumstances to better our lives. By working to provide non-academic resources to college students, College Health Corps VISTAs are contributing to the success of students and are providing an environment that encourages achievement. A wonderful example of this type of work is shown by Katelyn Reid, the VISTA at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). In just a few short months, 378 students at the college utilized the services provided by the Student Support Center. The variety of these resources span from a food pantry to housing resources to events that raise awareness about various issues. Without this support center it is safe to assume that these students may have a harder time accessing resources, and therefore put stress on their ability to continue their education.

The Statewide Health Assessment also found that the physician-to-patient ratio is very uneven across the state. Large rural areas have one physician for every 494 people (1:494), small town/small rural have 1:653, and rural or isolated have only 1:1,987. Also, mental health professionals and dentists are especially hard to find in rural Minnesota (Minnesota Department of Health, 2017). Working to combat these numbers is Open Door Health Center which is a federally qualified health center in Mankato. Nick DeVetter, the VISTA member at Open Door is working on creating community partnerships and health education initiatives to better serve the community. Open Door Health Center also has a mobile medical unit that travels throughout the region to serve those communities that do not have access to a clinic. Much of the work Nick has been doing regarding outreach is sharing the resources that Open Door can provide. In one survey conducted by Open Door, 78.5% of students who went through a health education program reported improved understanding in at least one of the categories ranging from the services Open Door Health Center provides to what to expect during a physical exam.

While some of these numbers pulled from the Statewide Health Assessment may seem bleak, it’s important to remember that Minnesota has many positive trends when it comes to health. For example, a lower percentage of people are uninsured, compared to the rest of the country. The state’s unemployment rate is slightly lower than average and Minnesota is consistently ranking high in various national comparisons of health, though stark disparities in health outcomes by race continue to plague Minnesota. (Minnesota Department of Health, 2017). As Minnesota continues to improve upon the state of our health, the VISTAs in the College Health Corps contribute to this mission daily.

To read the full 2017 Statewide Health Assessment click here. To learn more about the various organizations spotlighted in this post see below:

Brightside Produce with the University of St. Thomas

University of Minnesota Rochester

North Hennepin Community College

Minneapolis Community and Technical College

Open Door Health Center

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