• Article
  • May 17, 2017

Community Health Spotlight: Building Community Connections

The results of one children’s hospital’s efforts to better understand and connect with the community they serve. 

Perception is often said to be reality, which can lead to challenges when community perceptions of an institution don’t match how that institution views itself, and its work for the community. This was the case for Children’s Minnesota (formerly Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota) when they set out to enhance their relationships in the community in 2014. 

Children’s Minnesota is a two hospital system with locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul, both in or near dense, diverse urban neighborhoods. As they began to look to take a more broad, population health approach to their community engagement efforts, members of the hospital’s Advocacy and Health Policy department began a listening campaign in these communities. 

“We wanted to try and understand the communities we serve better, particularly those we didn’t typically hear from. What started off as an ‘assessment,’ very quickly turned into a huge learning opportunity for us,” explained Anna Youngerman, Senior Director of Advocacy and Health Policy. 

The team focused its attention on organizations led by and/or representing communities of color, Native communities and other under-represented voices. What they found was that the community absolutely trusted them to provide quality health care to their children, but that they did not see the hospitals as being part of their community. 

Youngerman describes this as a common challenge for large institutions, which can be seen as disconnected from the lives, experiences and strengths of the community in which they operate. 

“We weren’t bad, we just weren’t community” she states. 

The discussions focused on gaining a clearer understanding of how to build relationships based on shared goals. The majority of the requests were for contributions that seemed minor in scope from the hospital’s perspective, but required a dedicated effort to make them more visible in the community. The community advice hospital leaders heard included:  

  • Get rid of the savior mentality; recognize our strengths and contributions to our own health.
  • Spend more time showing up in an authentic, mutually-beneficial way. 
  • Participate in more community events. The presence of the hospital at these neighborhood events demonstrates that what matters to the community, matters to the hospital.
  • Stay engaged. Even if a program is discontinued, maintain relationships and connections with the community groups. 

“The requests were less tangible, it was more about staying present around different tables and investing our time with community partners,” shared Youngerman. 

Partnership in Action

The following examples show how Children’s Hospital and Clinics modified existing efforts based on community feedback. 

Vida Sana is a healthy living program offered by the hospital for Latino families, held in a nearby community center. While the focus was initially around weight loss and obesity, based on family feedback they have expanded the program in a way that lets the children and parents attending shape how it moves forward. It’s still about wellness, but has also opened up to additional topics about being “well” and the many aspects that entails.  It also has built on the sense of community participants already share.  “The families appreciated the learning but wanted to help shape that learning and, perhaps more importantly, appreciated the time to feel connected to each other,” explains Youngerman. 

First Gift is a volunteer-driven program that emerged out of a health equity initiative focused on Minneapolis’ significant urban American Indian community. Members of the local American Indian community come together to craft handmade moccasins as the traditional first gift for babies born into their community who are in the hospital’s NICU and Special Care Nursery. This program has built a relationship between the hospital and the community, establishing trust that will help them work together to improve health outcomes in the future. 

To learn more, visit Children’s Minnesota Advocacy and Health Policy 

This article is part of a new series, spotlighting aspects of member hospital’s work in community health. If you have a topic you’d like to submit for consideration, contact Stacy Biddinger