COVID-19 has greatly impacted the health of Minnesotans and exacerbated the disparities present in BIPOC and immigrant communities. Hospitalizations, increased risk of viral transmission, and job loss have resulted in loss of health insurance, fewer primary care visits, and lower rates of vaccination.
To help address these disparities and more effectively reach communities in need, the University of Minnesota recently launched an interprofessional mobile health care initiative, UMN HELPS (Health Equity through Local Partnerships and Service).
Supported by the Otto Bremer Trust, UMN HELPS brings together University experts and students with community partners to deliver a range of urgently needed health care services.
“Being where people are—in their community rather than in a clinic setting—is really powerful,” said Jonathan Kirsch, MD, assistant professor of medicine who leads UMN HELPS. “This type of outreach is an effective way to engage with communities, especially vulnerable populations.”
Kirsch, who directs the Interprofessional Migrant Health Rotation in the University’s Medical School, has been working with the migrant farmworker communities for years in Minnesota, New York and North Carolina. Through his own experience, he realizes the value and importance of partnering with existing trusted organizations in each community.
“A lot of communities already have local health departments and clinics, faith-based groups, and other organizations doing great work to support their community members’ health and wellbeing. What we want to do is partner with them and share University resources and expertise for which they may not normally have access, with the ultimate goal to improve access to primary care and health outcomes for people,” said Kirsch.
While UMN HELPS initially brought together University health professionals from dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, medicine, and veterinary medicine, it has expanded to include others from areas such as informatics and architecture.
“For our last two events, we worked with an architectural designer with research experience in mobile health who developed clinic site plans that took into consideration the movement and flow of people through the various health care stations. This is especially critical during this time of COVID to prevent people from congregating too closely together,” said Kirsch.