Monday, November 20, 2017

Assessing Health Opportunities in Minnesota

Minnesota is a wonderful state with strikingly beautiful lakes, rivers, forests, and grasslands; vibrant urban, suburban and rural communities; numerous passionate and committed civic-minded people; many world-famous institutions; and a robust economy. Overall, Minnesota is a great place to live, work, play, pray and raise a family.

Minnesota is also grappling with unprecedented changes precipitated by events and policies at local, national and global levels. Unstable weather patterns, political polarization and shifting demographics challenge us to step up and meet the future as never before.

When we consider the averages, Minnesota compares quite well overall for health, economic opportunity, civic engagement and more. In areas where we do not do so well, we see some positive trends in the last five years—teen pregnancies are down in every population and high school graduation rates are up. However, we also see some major challenges. Deaths from opioid and alcohol overdoses, suicides and other diseases of disconnection and despair are rising fast, and inequities — in everything from infant mortality and educational achievement to employment, rates of home ownership and incarceration — stubbornly persist. These inequities challenge the notion that Minnesota is doing well: it is doing well for some, but not for everyone.

As public health workers, we cannot be content with averages that mask the real health of many people in both urban and rural Minnesota — especially people with disabilities, American Indians, African-Americans, Hmong, Somalis, people with Latino heritage, the LGBTQ community, elders, women and children.

The 2017 Minnesota Statewide Health Assessment, developed through a joint effort of the Healthy Minnesota Partnership and the Minnesota Department of Health, is a critical step in examining Minnesota’s inequities by race and ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, geography and disability. With this information we can focus our attention and begin to work together for change. Collectively our strengths can equip us to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow head on — provided we make room at the table for all.

Some tragic and traumatic events in Minnesota over the last few years have underscored the importance of confronting one of the things that is pulling us apart – structural and individual racism linked with all forms of hate. Acts of violence, exclusion and discrimination, as well as unjust social and economic structures, certainly do not represent the values that guide the work of public health. I trust that they also do not reflect the vision and values of the vast majority of Minnesotans. In fact, our growing racial and ethnic diversity is deepening our knowledge and broadening our vision of how to live in a way that helps all of us thrive.

Minnesota is a headwater state—a place where things begin and flow outward—not just via the Mississippi River but also via public health. The 2017 Minnesota Statewide Health Assessment is a headwater document, a source for ideas and actions that can spring into being and stimulate change. This assessment allows us to look directly at our challenges and decide our response. I hope we all use these findings to channel our shared passion and commitment toward making sure Minnesota lives up to its image as a great place to call home—for everyone.

I encourage you to review the assessment at 2017 Minnesota Statewide Health Assessment (PDF).