Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Greetings from Moorhead, Minnesota

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Confucius – Chinese philosopher – born August 27, 551 BCE

As you know, I’ve been going around the state having people pitch me ideas about what Minnesota needs to do to regain its stature as the healthiest state in the nation. I have those discussions before, during and after pitching horseshoes in a local park. This afternoon I stopped in Ottertail County to talk with a group of local and state elected officials, health care workers, local public health, community organizations, Area Health Education Center staff, educators and other interested citizens. I was also pleased that some of our district staff was there. Tomorrow I’m in Clay and Becker counties interacting with similar groups of people. Tonight I’m in Moorhead.

This is my fourth “Pitch the Commissioner” trip but the first one that has required an overnight stay, so this is the first opportunity I’ve had to let you know what I’m hearing, what I’m seeing and what I’m doing.  I’m hoping that those three things lead to some understanding as outlined by Confucius.

What I’m hearing is that communities across the state are looking for continued partnership with MDH.  They speak highly of the help that has come from all divisions within MDH. It may have come from the district nurse consultant who has helped with an MCH issue; a sanitarian who has helped with a pesky water quality issue; a nursing home inspector who has helped improve the quality of care; a health economist or statistician who has provided some useful information to a hospital administrator, or a grants manager who has helped an agency work through a tough problem – to name just a few. I’m certainly hearing a lot about the value of SHIP and how it’s changed the conversation and relationships in communities. It has had an effect more powerful than I had imagined. Mostly, I’m hearing that people throughout the state see us as good partners in creating healthy communities. 

I’m also hearing that there are some acute needs in most communities. The public health infrastructure is weakening, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the high level of service that local agencies have provided.  I hear about creative and unique ways of making do but the lack of resources is starting to take its toll. I hear about changing demographics that are challenging the communities, and I hear about many of the specific acute and chronic problems that are present in every community.

What I’m seeing in these communities is amazing. I see a pride in what these communities have accomplished and a desire to do even more.  I see partnerships, affiliations, alliances and collaborations that have been established and solidified and are having a huge impact on the health of these communities. People are anxious to work together to improve their communities. I see the huge impact that small investments in prevention can make. I see things that make me feel proud to be a Minnesotan and proud to be part of a public health system that helps make these things happen.

What I am doing – besides listening and looking – is asking questions about the needs and strengths of communities and what help they would like to get from the state and MDH. I must admit that I also do quite a bit of advocating for creating a public health framework for health reform, rebalancing funding for medical care and public health and integrating medical care and public health. But mostly I advocate for how we can create healthy communities where people have the opportunity to be healthy and where health disparities are eliminated. The points of those presentations will have to wait for a later note.

Confucius said, “There are three methods to gaining wisdom. The first is reflection, which is the highest. The second is imitation, which is the easiest. The third is experience, which is the bitterest.” I hate to disagree with a noted philosopher on his birthday, but the experiences that I’m getting through my visits are certainly adding to my knowledge and understanding of the needs of the state (I can only hope that they add to my wisdom) and they are far from bitter. They are rich and flavorful experiences that fill me with hope for our state. 

As I go around the state and talk with people, they often wonder if those of us in the metro area or working at the state level know what the local folks are doing and if we understand its importance. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve certainly come to see them as an integral part of the public health enterprise that’s so essential if we are to be the healthiest state in the nation. They give credence to what Nobel Peace Prize winner Mother Teresa (BD 8/27/1910) said, "What we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”