Community Building: M Health Fairview’s East Side Health Well-Being Collaborative

Community Building: M Health Fairview’s East Side Health Well-Being Collaborative

On St. Paul’s East Side, a group of “cultural brokers” have been navigating the neighborhood’s diverse cultural communities through the twists, turns, narrows, and rapids of the Covid-19 pandemic. These brokers understand healing and health from the perspective of each of those communities, and that of the mainstream culture. In the past year, their help has been more crucial than ever.

During the pandemic, the cultural brokers have been providing resources that debunk vaccine myths, as well as connecting individuals to unemployment resources, assisting people with resource navigation and advocacy, and providing follow-up with Covid-19 patients after they’re discharged from the hospital. Full-time cultural brokers served the East Side’s Indigenous, Hispanic/Latino, Hmong, African American, and Karen communities.

Minneapolis-based M Health Fairview directed the launch of the program. “M Health Fairview is rooted in the communities that we serve across Minnesota,” says John Swanholm, vice president of community advancement. “We have a long history and strong commitment to the partnerships we’ve formed with local nonprofits, community organizations, and businesses, and this is especially true on the East Side of St. Paul.” In 2020, the cultural brokers served more than 1,573 East Side residents.

The program was created in 2016 when M Health Fairview reached out to the East Side to help identify residents’ most pressing health needs. M Health Fairview chose this neighborhood because of the significant concentrations of racialized poverty and because it was medically underserved.

To better understand what residents needed, M Health Fairview facilitated conversations in partnership with 40 organizations, including neighborhood associations, nonprofits, faith communities, and small businesses, and more than 50 community members. Residents and advocates attending these conversations overwhelmingly noted that there were significant barriers to culturally responsive mental health services. These barriers disproportionately affect people of color, Indigenous communities, refugees, immigrants, and low-income individuals.

To address these and other barriers, M Health Fairview convened and funded the East Side Health and Well-Being Collaborative, which comprises nearly two dozen organizations. Once established, the collaborative developed the cultural broker program. Since then, the brokers have been helping community members navigate school, health, and other systems so they can better advocate for themselves.

The complexity of the Covid-19 outbreak has shown how essential the cultural brokers’ work is to the East Side’s diverse communities. Those communities will continue to rely on them as the pandemic lifts, and new health and healing challenges arise.

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