I find myself at a loss for words. I know as a leader I should be able to provide words of wisdom and offer solutions to the tough issues our organization is facing. I must admit, I don’t have anything brilliant or innovative to offer. I believe the best advice for these challenging times is to follow the advice and guidance of our very competent Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) officials. The resource section of this issue highlights important COVID-19 information from MDH and CDC—public health agencies whose expertise we need and trust.
I commend all of you who are working to help those around you. I send special thanks to those of you who are working tirelessly to share information about COVID-19 resources, translate information into languages spoken by the many patients and community members we serve, and for offering emotional and professional support to each other. In this newsletter, we share several examples of how CHW programs here in Minnesota and around the US are making a difference during this crisis. CHWs are now recognized by the US Department of Homeland Security as a critical essential infrastructure worker in our nation’s response to the COVID-19 emergency, and rightfully so.
During this rapidly-changing situation, we can learn from sharing our successes and challenges in helping to meet the needs of our communities and also provide mutual support. If you can, please join the CHW Circle meeting via ZOOM on Wednesday, April1 from 3:00-4:30 p.m., where we will discuss CHW strategies during the time of COVID-19. See our calendar below for call-in information.
The coming months are not going to be easy. Remaining connected and resilient is critical and taking care of yourself and those you love is what matters. I have noticed, as I work from home, things I would not normally take the time to notice – of special note is the cardinal that has taken to hanging in the tree right outside my home office window. When I’m starting to feel the stress build inside, I look to the front of my desk – to the pictures of my darling grandchildren and then turn my head to the left to look for my cardinal. I take deep breaths and say, “this too shall pass.”
Minnesota Community Health Worker Alliance
Community Health Worker
Mayo Clinic Health System
I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. I have a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery from Benadir University in Somalia and have worked in trauma and emergency surgery including service overseas with the International Committee of Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. Now I live in Mankato with my lovely wife Samsam. I have three boys, Hamza, Hisham and Hilal. I love soccer, reading and volunteering.
I earned my CHW certificate from Rochester Community and Technical College and currently work as a CHW in Mayo Clinic Health System where I serve as a central link between patients and health and social service providers, conducting home visits, facilitating health literacy workshops, and providing culturally-responsive interventions to address Somali health disparities. In addition to that, I am studying for the US medical license examination test to continue the journey of helping underserved communities as a doctor.
In addition to my professional role, I am highly engaged in the greater Mankato community serving on several area committees and boards, including Blue Earth County Mental Health Task Force, Mayo Clinic Community Cancer Research Advisory Committee, Mayo Clinic Health System Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and Mayo Clinic Health System Family Medicine Quality Committee. I am a founding member of a developing grassroots group, Linking for Good, a committed group of local Somalis seeking to build bridges between the Somali and the greater Mankato community. I also serve in a leadership role as one of the Imams at the St. Peter Islamic Center and Dar Abi Baker at Mankato.
In addition to our daily work to provide the Somali community in the Mankato-St. Peter area with information on the COVID-19 virus and Minnesota’s response, we have been doing many things. These include:
- We have set up two What’sApp groups for Somali community members—one for Mankato and North Mankato and one for St. Peter. You may already know this—community members move around between these communities. A mom may live in St. Peter while here daughter lives in Mankato. This is often the case so there is a lot of movement back and forth.
- We set up a free conference call listening session to share information with the community and answer questions. We will continue to use free conference calls for meetings and for educating the community.
- We have identified people in housing complexes in Mankato, North Mankato and St. Peter where many Somali families live to share information with families in the building. We use What’sApp and free conference calls to inform these key people.
What’sApp and free conference calls are good tools because people can ask questions. We find people have a lot of questions because they know something critical is happening, but they are not getting the information in Somali they need to understand. They have a lot of questions. What’sApp is very simple and used by young and old alike.
Minnesota Community Health Worker Alliance is canceling the 2020 Annual Conference scheduled for May 15 because of COVID-19. Anyone who has already purchased admission to the conference may receive a full reimbursement, or, if they choose, donate the ticket price to support our mission.
What a week it has been! The COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation is changing daily, if not hourly. As many of you likely know, just this afternoon, Governor Walz signed an executive order declaring a peacetime state of emergency. Every organization and institution is figuring out how best to handle the situation. We are relying on the guidance of the experts at the Minnesota Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Our commitment is to the health of our attendees. We also know that you may be caring for patients and family members and that is where your focus is should be right now.
The decision to cancel is made with great sadness because we look forward to seeing everyone each year. It is a time when we are reminded of what a strong community you represent. We encourage you all to take care of own well-being and join us in sending supportive energy to those that may be affected by the virus.
Over the next month, we will reach out to you about our next steps. We appreciate your patience and understanding.
MNCHWA Board Chair
March always brings the promise of warmer days ahead. It makes me feel hopeful and excited for sunshine and green grass!
My name is Cathy Weik and I chair the Minnesota Community Health Worker Alliance (MNCHWA) Board of Directors. When I’m not focused on the Alliance, I serve as the Sr. Vice President, Administration/Compliance Officer for Stratis Health. Stratis Health has been a longtime partner of the Alliance and firmly believes in the power of integrating community health worker strategies into health care, public health and social service systems as a critical component of the solution that will positively impact the overall health and well-being of our communities. As many of you may already know, the Alliance entered into an agreement with Stratis Health last fall for “back office” administrative support and co-location that includes office space, access to conference rooms, technology and collaborative programming. This is exciting and provides a dedicated space for CHWs to come together to get work done.
You may have seen LaTanya Black’s letter by now in which she announces her transition from Executive Director to Project Manager. The board fully supports LaTanya in her new role representing the Alliance as a community representative and subject matter expert. The Alliance is blessed with a strong team, which also includes Anne Ganey, MPH, who will continue her work with the Alliance leading projects and serving in the education and training role, as well as the many CHWs that have a long history and involvement with the Alliance.
During this period of transition, the Alliance’s Board of Directors has delegated the day-to-day operational responsibilities to the board’s executive committee (Vice Chair – Laura Guzman-Corrales, MPH, Healthy Communities Program Manager; Treasurer – Gary Oftedahl, MD; and Secretary – Kimberli Barker, Community Health Worker). I will serve as the main point of contact. The Alliance’s Executive Committee, along with the other board members, will ensure the Alliance successfully executes on its work and remains a viable and active community collaborator and partner in achieving the vision of equitable and optimal health outcomes for all communities.
All the best,
Minnesota Community Health Worker Alliance
A Message from the Executive Director
It is with great sadness that I share my decision to step away from serving as the Executive Director for the MN Community Health Worker Alliance. The decision in no way reflects my commitment to the organization or my intention to stay involved in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, I have experienced continued health challenges related to a serious fall I took last fall. The challenges have been such that I do not feel I am able to give my complete focus and attention to the Executive Director role.
While I won’t be serving as the Executive Director, I will continue to serve as a project manager and will represent the Alliance as a community representative and subject matter expert.
I am confident the work of the Alliance will continue without interruption as we stay engaged with partners that are helping fulfill the organization’s contractual obligations and mission. Anne Ganey, MPH, continues her work with the Alliance leading projects and serving in the education and training role. Our collaboration with Stratis Health remains strong as they provide our “back office” administrative support and co-location, this relationship has strengthened the Alliance’s internal capacity.
During the period of transition, the Alliance’s Board of Directors has delegated the day-to-day operational responsibilities to the board’s executive committee. Cathy Weik, Sr. VP Administration for Stratis Health serves as the Alliance’s Board Chair and she will serve as the main point of contact. The Alliance’s Executive Committee, along with the other board members, will ensure the Alliance successfully executes on its work and remains a viable and active community collaborator and partner in achieving the vision of equitable and optimal health outcomes for all communities.
I want to thank the Alliance for the fantastic opportunity and for appointing me as the first Community Health Worker to serve as the organization’s Executive Director. I have accomplished great things in my work with the Alliance and have been presented with a wonderful opportunity to grow professionally and personally. I look forward to my continued work with the Alliance and know I am not saying goodbye, but rather, just changing the role from which I interact with each of you.
Until further notice, please direct your questions to Cathy Weik at email@example.com.
As always, the Alliance’s website is a wonderful source for answers to many of your questions. Please check this space for upcoming events and resources.