By Lee Egerstrom
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota has announced it is continuing funding for Hennepin Healthcare’s Pediatric Mobile Clinic that takes vaccines for preventable diseases on the road to children in Hennepin County.
Blue Cross Blue Shield supported Hennepin Healthcare’s initial effort in 2020 when it launched the mobile vaccination program aimed at eliminating barriers to care and at improving health equity for families. The new pledge of grant support will help continue the program through 2023.
While this program is open to all in Hennepin County, it is part of Blue Cross Blue Shield’s ongoing effort to assist the Native American and other distinct communities in Minnesota gain better, more equitable access to health care, said Sasha Houston Brown, senior communications and advocacy consultant at the insurer’s Center for Prevention.
Blue Cross Blue Shield has several programs that reach Indigenous people on Minnesota reservations and in urban settings, she said. This is especially important to Brown. While she grew up in Minneapolis, she is Mdewakanton Dakota, and a descendant of the Santee Sioux in Nebraska.
Some of the supported and cooperative efforts does involve Native tribes or groups, such as the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the Lower Sioux Indian Community, Brown said.
Other programs involve organizations focused on wellness, health care access and food security. One of the latter, Brown said, is the Minneapolis-based Dream of Wild Health organization.
Research by various health groups have found health care disparities among ethnic and income groups across the nation. In some cases, the disparities have worsened from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blue Cross Blue Shield research found that in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, childhood vaccinations for preventable diseases fell by 26 percent. That meant nine million doses of childhood vaccines, such as measles, whooping cough and polio, were missed.
A more recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) determined that “interventions” are needed to catch up on vaccinating children and especially those from population groups that are known to have lesser rates of immunization.
Gaps in health equity have always existed and especially in diverse communities, said Bukata Hayes, vice president of racial and health equity at Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota.
“This mobile immunization program from Hennepin Healthcare is a perfect example of a sustainable solution to bridge these gaps and achieve better health for everyone,” he said. “Providing additional funding to keep this work going was an easy decision and will lead to lower overall costs associated with preventable health interventions over the long term.”
That makes the Pediatric Mobile Clinic an “intervention” for Hennepin County the American Medical Association has called for in its Journal.
Dr. Dawn Martin, medical director for the mobile clinic at Hennepin Healthcare, said the decline in childhood vaccinations showed “the best course of action was to deliver care to where the patients were.”
“The initial funding from Blue Cross allowed us to get this program off the ground and prove that it works,” she said. “Now, we are able to continue this important work and improve upon what we’ve started.”
The mobile unit has administered thousands of vaccines to area children, eliminating barriers to care and improving health equity by bringing preventive care directly to families, the Blues said in announcing its continued support.
Plans for the current year will expand the mobile unit’s geographical reach, add preventive services and expand COVID-19 vaccinations, improve health screenings and referrals, and add a new and larger vehicle that can better accommodate patient visits.
Hennepin Healthcare said that it works on addressing care gaps, including vaccinations in Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities.
Native American children do experience significant health disparities in these areas that prompts Hennepin Healthcare and others to work on providing some care to their community. However, it hasn’t held specific pop-up clinics for this community to date.
The healthcare system is partnered with a community-based Native American organization in an effort to improve vaccine confidence in BIPOC communities. More such efforts are anticipated in the future.
Hennepin Healthcare’s parent, Hennepin Healthcare System Inc., is a subsidiary of Hennepin County. It operates the large, 484-bed Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), an acute care hospital with Level I Adult Trauma Center and Level I Pediatric Trauma Center.
Its system also includes an outpatient Clinic and Specialty Center, clinics in the North Loop and Whittier neighborhoods of Minneapolis, and clinics at suburban locations in Brooklyn Park, Golden Valley, Richfield and St. Anthony Village.
The system also operates a psychiatric care program, home care and hospice, a research institute, a philanthropic foundation and the county’s Emergency Medical Services, Hennepin EMS.
Information about Blue Cross Blue Shield support and efforts to created healthier communities and advance racial and health equity is available at bluecrossmn.com/ equity.
A video on the Pediatric Mobile Clinic is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_k-lyTSa-Y.