In 2021, three community leaders from rural Minnesota were selected as the inaugural cohort for Project REACH (Rural Experts Advancing Community Health), a joint initiative of the University of Minnesota Rural Health Program through the Office of Academic Clinical Affairs and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute.
Project REACH is a year-long program that provides diverse community leaders in rural Minnesota with health policy and leadership training. Participants learn to frame health policy challenges and how to communicate effectively with state legislators and other policymakers. Participants identify local challenges, build leadership skills to address the challenge, and develop and share a policy proposal with relevant decision makers. Throughout the program, participants have access to mentorship from University of Minnesota faculty and staff.
Ann Bussey, one of the three inaugural members of the Project REACH cohort, is a retired health care leader, and serves as a volunteer community advocate and facilitator on the Iron Range, advocating for older adults and the opportunity to live and grow old in an age-friendly environment. She participates on multiple community health committees across the Iron Range as well as the Fairview Range Community Healthy Aging Committee. She is a member of the Central Mesabi Medical Foundation, a foundation that supports the Fairview Range Medical Center community in Hibbing and the surrounding area. She is currently serving as the Chair of the MN Rural Health Advisory Committee. Bussey has over 40 years’ experience in progressive health care leadership in integrated delivery systems, clinical operations, professional practice, research and education, and rural health.
As part of her Project REACH work, Bussey has been focused on addressing social isolation in older adults in rural communities, particularly in her home in the Iron Range. Her policy proposal focuses on leveraging the Minnesota State Library Services 2022-2024 Five-Year Plan to prioritize digital inclusion and digital literacy programs that champion Minnesota’s rural older adults. She suggests that this could be done by seeking funding through the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act via the Minnesota Office of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), linking the development of a state digital equity plan to existing broadband access initiatives, and identifying the Minnesota State Library Services as the state’s lead for digital inclusion and digital literacy across its extensive statewide footprint. She has met with an extensive number of stakeholders in her community and across the state, including the MN State Library Services, Minnesota Rural Health Advisory Committee, AARP Rural Livability, Blandin Foundation, Arrowhead Area on Aging, Mesabi YMCA, MN Board on Aging, Growth & Justice, Essentia Health Virginia, Fairview Range Medical Center, Healthy Minnesota Partnership, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, MN DEED, MN SHIP, Minnesota AARP, US Men's Shed Association, Minneapolis MN Retirement Council, and MN Age Friendly Committee. In addition to her policy proposal, she has also created a fact sheet on aging in Minnesota in 2022, which was recently included as part of the presentation of HF4036 to the State Government Finance and Elections committee at the Minnesota legislature. This bill would establish a legislative task force to examine aging demographics and issues affecting healthy aging. Bussey will be sharing her policy proposal and fact sheet to a national AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities webinar in June 2022.
“Project Reach is an opportunity for Minnesota rural community advocates to have a voice in policy development, gifting everyday people access to the expertise of the University of Minnesota as well as the legitimacy to execute on results. Most importantly, it has been an opportunity to highlight older adult digital inclusion and digital literacy as a critical healthy aging strategy as Minnesota rapidly ages. It is especially critical for those older adults living in the scarce broadband areas of Greater Minnesota,” said Bussey.