State health officials hope to build more trust, better communication with communities of color


A Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) survey last fall found that communication barriers such as language, trust, culture and literacy exist that prevent health messages from reaching various communities.

“It wasn’t particularly surprising,” said MDH International Health Coordinator Sara Chute of the survey results. “I knew that these were major issues, but I wanted to make sure that I was representing those beliefs correctly.”

As a result, Chute co-facilitated the first of two “community communications conversations” April 25 at Rondo Library in St. Paul. The second is scheduled for sometime in May in Minneapolis.

“This was a project that I wanted to do for quite some time to highlight the experiences and challenges of the community that I hear day in and day out. I wanted to make those voices heard,” Chute told the MSR. It was important to hear from communities of color, she added.

Right: Bill Hunt (Photos by Charles Hallman)

“That’s why I feel it is particularly important that [MDH officials] don’t go talking amongst ourselves, but that we always bring in a community voice,” Chute said. “We have to be more creative than our website because most folk don’t go to our website.”

Nearly 40 persons discussed in small groups five key areas summarized from the MDH survey: creating trust between State health officials and communities; creating culturally responsive and appropriate health messaging; ensuring language accessibility; maintaining strong and sustainable partnerships; and ensuring that accurate messages are reaching all communities.

The groups identified strengths and made suggestions. “There was a good representation,” said Chute of the early afternoon turnout. “That’s why we are doing another ‘conversation’ in Minneapolis on an evening, probably later in May.” She added that she hopes to use the feedback from the sessions “to bring that back to [MDH] leadership and show the importance.”

“I was delighted to come to a workshop like this,” said Bill Hunt of Woodbury, who works with new immigrant farmers in Washington County. “I think the main thing we did was talk about ways we can do things better, and we need to get away from some of these administrative strategies, which is doing the same old things in the same old ways and expecting different results.

“The old European way of passing a law, rule or regulation does not work,” Hunt continued. “Times have changed. Technology has changed, and people have changed. We need to bring some young people in…[and] have boots on the ground [who] represent those communities. Trust is a big issue here.”

Champlin resident Angelique Cooper-Liberty, who works with West African residents in Brooklyn Park, added that the session “was very insightful.”

Left: Sara Chute

Chute recalled that after the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009 it was necessary to tailor health messages to specific populations, especially Limited English Proficient (LEP) populations. “We are not just talking about limited English communities, but we know that many other groups are faced with such challenges: basic reading, writing and understanding how things are written as well as complex information and navigating,” she explained. “Regardless of race and ethnicity, there are a very large percentage of Minnesotans that have low literacy levels.”

“I hope that we can come up with a few key recommendations to bring back to MDH and move those forward,” stated Chute. “We know that our resources are limited, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be creative in finding effective solutions.

“I’m not specifically part of the group that is rolling out the recommendations, but I think part of my job as international health coordinator is to make sure that folk will know how to use important health information and how to access health care,” concluded Chute.

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