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Helping families navigate social factors that impact health – Community Connect featured as part of Minnesota Hospital Association campaign

Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) featured Children’s Minnesota’s innovative Community Connect program as part of MHA’s Healthy Communities campaign. The campaign highlights the work of hospitals throughout the state providing solutions and support beyond medical care that improve the health and lives of Minnesotans.

“Our goal with Community Connect is to get upstream and tackle the critical social needs that promote health and wellbeing,” said Pam Ross, director of community health programs at Children’s Minnesota. “The program is unique because it not only provides customized and responsive resources to each family, it is also anchored in a comprehensive follow up and engagement model to holistically support families as they address issues that may impact their health.”

Community Connect is a foundational step in the pursuit of Children’s vision to be every family’s essential partner in raising healthier children. We know kids’ experiences at home, in school, and in their neighborhoods are the biggest drivers of overall health and well-being. Community Connect is a systematized approach that allows Children’s to be responsive to families’ social support needs, with particular attention to families of color and Native American families who experience greater disparities in health outcomes. The program helps connect families to existing community resources, including food, transportation services, legal assistance, housing support, early childhood education programs, employment search assistance and much more.

Overwhelming evidence supports the need for such a program in a pediatric health system. Research shows that:

  • Eighty percent of kids’ health happens outside clinic walls – where they live, learn and play.
  • Early childhood development dramatically impacts a child’s future, as the brain grows most rapidly from ages 0-3.
  • Lack of access to critical social needs can impede childhood development and lead to poor health outcomes.

Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 12 well-child visits before age 3, giving health care providers regular and frequent opportunities to support children and families. These visits are particularly critical for very young children before they are connected to other supportive systems, such as schools.

“I think that hospitals should have programs like Community Connect because some people are afraid of asking for help and some people don’t know where to go,” said Jessica, a participant in the Community Connect program.

Since the program’s launch in the fall of 2017, more than 21,000 patients have been screened for social needs. Through these proactive screenings, about 20 to 25 percent of families identify at least one social need impacting their health. Throughout the life of the program, nearly 3,900 families received supportive services and were connected to community resources.

Children’s Minnesota recently received a $500,000 two-year grant from Kohl’s Cares to support the Community Connect program. The program is currently available at Children’s St. Paul and Minneapolis Primary Care clinics, as well as the Adolescent Health, Asthma, and Endocrine/Diabetes specialty clinics in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The grant from Kohl’s Cares substantially funds Community Connect at Children’s hospital-based Primary Care clinic in Minneapolis. This allows Children’s to focus on engaging other funders and philanthropic donors to potentially expand the program to additional clinical locations where Community Connect programming is needed.

Dina Elrashidy