Center for Health Equity Newsletter - May 2017 - Minnesota Dept. of Health

Center for Health Equity Newsletter
May 2017

Newsletter banner

In this newsletter:
Greetings from the Center for Health Equity
Bruce Thao selected as the Director of the Center for Health Equity
Continuing the Community Conversation
Connecting with grantees through site visits
Staff spotlight: Mohamed Hassan
Equity in Action
Equity Toolbox
Events, Opportunities & Announcements

Greetings from the Center for Health Equity

Thanks for tuning in to our third quarterly Center for Health Equity newsletter! As we work to promote health equity within our agency and throughout Minnesota, we look forward to sharing updates and stories from our work with you through this regular update. If you have feedback or suggestions for future newsletters, please email your comments to Thank you for being an ally in advancing health equity. Happy spring!

Bruce Thao selected as the Director of the Center for Health Equity

Bruce ThaoIt is my pleasure to announce that after a robust and community-engaged recruitment and interview process we have selected Mr. Bruce Thao, MA, MS to serve as the MDH director of the Center for Health Equity.

Bruce has a strong record of working to advance health equity. Most recently, he managed the Linking Leaders Initiative at the F.R. Bigelow Foundation, a cross-sector effort to advance racial equity in leadership. Prior to this role, as the former director of programs for Hmong American Partnership (HAP), Bruce managed a large staff, budget, and portfolio of projects. In this role, he oversaw many public health programs, among them an EHDI breast and cervical cancer grant.

He is also a skilled community organizer, having managed HAP’s MNSure outreach and enrollment effort in Minnesota, while working to expand Affordable Care Act outreach to rural and limited English communities in California, Arkansas, Missouri, and North Carolina. For these efforts, the White House honored Bruce as a Champion of Change for Healthcare.

As a 2013 Bush Foundation Leadership Fellow, Bruce expanded upon his University of Chicago doctoral research on resilience, trauma, health and wellness across diverse communities. He is an expert and thought leader on historical trauma and holistic health and wellness.

Bruce’s extensive experience also includes policy work at the local and national levels, notably his advisory role to the mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis on a Twin Cities initiative for boys and men of color, part of President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.

Bruce has lived and worked in rural and urban communities across the United States, but now calls Minnesota home. He is deeply committed to ensuring that all Minnesotans are able to thrive and prosper. In his free time, Bruce enjoys running, biking, traveling and practicing mindfulness.

Sara Chute, who has been serving as the acting director of the Center for Health Equity since last fall, has accepted a position as the assistant director of Health Equity. I’d like to thank Sara for the extra responsibilities she took on over the past 8 months, and I’m glad to have her continued leadership and service.

Bruce’s first day at MDH will be May 22. Please join me in extending a warm welcome to him.


Edward P. Ehlinger, MD, MSPH
Minnesota Department of Health

Continuing the Community Conversation

On Nov. 14, 2016, nearly 300 leaders and learners, clinicians and politicians, teachers and students, non-profit workers and government employees participated in the Minnesota Department of Health’s Community Conversation. Learn how their stories, experiences and ideas for advancing health equity are impacting work across MDH.

Informing the Strategic Plan at the Minnesota Department of Health

Feedback and comments from the November Community Conversation helped to inform the development of MDH’s 2017 work plan. This work plan is part of the 2015-2019 Strategic Plan (PDF), which serves as a roadmap for integrating a health equity focus in all of MDH’s work. The work plan outlines key actions that MDH will take in 2017 in order to get closer to the goals outlined in the strategic plan. A number of these actions are in response to feedback from the Community Conversation. For instance, MDH plans to provide racial equity training for all MDH managers and supervisors, continue efforts to improve its hiring process, form an external Health Equity Advisory Body (read more below) and host two more community conversations in 2017 (read more below).

Assembling a Health Equity Advisory Body

A group of ten community leaders who attended the first Community Conversation event has volunteered to help CHE construct a Health Equity Advisory Body. Although the details are still being finalized, this group is helping CHE develop a purpose, mission, framework and recruiting process for the advisory body. The team envisions that the advisory body will serve as a forum for discussing health equity issues in Minnesota and a platform for advising the Commissioner on how to address them. Members of the advisory body will represent the communities most affected by health disparities in Minnesota, including racial and ethnic minority groups, American Indians, people who are LGBTQ, rural Minnesotans, people with disabilities and many others. If you are interested in applying to serve as a member of the advisory body, stay tuned…applications will be shared on our website and through this email list in the summer.

Community Conversation meeting presentation

A group of community leaders who attended the first Community Conversation event is working with CHE staff to plan the second Community Conversation event, set to take place sometime this summer.

The Second Community Conversation Event

Planning is currently underway for the next Community Conversation event! About 20 volunteer community leaders who attended the first event are working with CHE staff to guide the purpose, format and details of the second event. This planning group has met twice so far, and plans to meet at least one more time before the end of May. At their most recent meeting in April, members of the planning group decided that the theme for the second event would be “Collaboration, Communication and Relationship Building,” based on the notes and feedback from the November Community Conversation. The event is likely to occur this summer. If you are interested in attending the next Community Conversation event, stay tuned…the registration form will be shared on our website and through this email list in the summer.

Connecting with grantees through site visits

As grant managers in the Center for Health Equity, Mohamed Hassan and Bridget Roby have many responsibilities. Together, they serve as the point of contact for the 35 organizations who receive funding through CHE. They review grants, distribute funds, answer questions, connect their grantees to other resources at MDH, and work collaboratively to help each organization achieve their goals.

Part of their work also involves conducting site visits to each grantee, at least one time each year. Several times a month, Mohamed and Bridget travel throughout Minnesota to check in with grantees face-to-face.

"Site visits are all about authentically engaging with our partners – they're not about checking boxes,” Mohamed said. "We want visits to be informal and interactive. We want to get to know our grantees and community partners on a personal level."

At a site visit, Mohamed and Bridget ask grantees how their projects are going. They ask about any challenges or successes that the grantees have encountered, offer support, answer questions and connect grantees to any data or resources that they may need within MDH.

"We want grantees to know that we're a resource and a partner in their work," Mohamed said. "We are here to help work through problems and to celebrate successes!"

This year, 35 grantees received funding through the Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative, Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative Capacity Building program and Advancing Health Equity grant program. These organizations use their funds to create and support community-based programs and initiatives with the goal of improving health outcomes for people of color and American Indians.

So far, Bridget and Mohamed have completed 22 site visits during this grant cycle.

For more information, visit Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative
and Advancing Health Equity Grants.

Center for Health Equity and Hmong American Partnership staff

Mohamed (middle) and Bridget (second in from the right) at a site visit with the Hmong American Partnership, an EHDI grantee focused on providing community education around diabetes in the Southeast Asian and new refugee communities.

Staff spotlight: Mohamed Hassan

Mohamed HassanMohamed Hassan graduated from the University of Minnesota with bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Development and Business Marketing Education. While attending the University of Minnesota, Mohamed worked for Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota (CSCM), the largest Somali community organization in North America. He started as a youth coordinator and eventually became their employment and human service coordinator. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Mohamed worked at Dugsi Academy Charter School in St. Paul as the dean of students before joining the Minnesota Department of Health in 2016. Mohamed currently works as a grant manger within the Center for Health Equity. He expects to complete his master’s degree in Health and Human Service Administration at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in June 2017.

Equity in Action

Health equity work is happening across many different areas of MDH – not just inside the Center for Health Equity! This section features different health equity projects, leaders and partners in other areas of MDH and the state of Minnesota.

From compliance to strategy: Advancing equity in the MDH hiring process

One of the most common themes that came out of the November Community Conversation was the need to tackle structural barriers in hiring practices. At this event, we heard:

  • MDH needs to hire more people who represent the diversity of all Minnesotans.
  • The MDH hiring process is not aligned with its strategy to eliminate barriers.
  • How does MDH determine a “qualified employee?” Lived experiences should be an important consideration.
  • This may require a policy/organizational/structural change to the hiring system.

With guidance and leadership from the Office of Inclusion, the Minnesota Department of Health is beginning to make structural changes to its hiring system. For years, MDH has focused on following the Americans with Disabilities and Affirmative Action hiring regulations. Though these laws provide crucial protections in the hiring process, “they’re not enough,” said Vikki Getchell, director of the MDH Office of Inclusion. “Now, we’re moving beyond compliance. We’re focusing on creating strategic initiatives to actively advance health equity throughout the department.”

One example of a recent strategic initiative is the addition of a “pre-offer review” in the hiring process.

Let’s walk through an example. Imagine that two qualified candidates interview for the same job. One is a member of a protected group, (for instance, a female, racial/ethnic minority, individual with a disability), and one is not. Now imagine that a hiring manager decides to offer the position to the non-protected candidate. In the old process, Human Resources would simply be required to sign and submit a form stating that the non-protected candidate was more qualified than the protected candidate. Then the hiring manager would be free to extend the offer to the non-protected candidate.

In the new hiring process, the hiring manager needs to complete a “pre-offer review” to justify the proposed hire. Before offering a job to a non-protected candidate, the hiring manager must complete a form that provides a side-by-side comparison of each candidate’s knowledge, skills and abilities based on their resumes, interviews and other application materials. If the hiring manager still believes that the non-protected candidate should get the job, the manager must send the side-by-side comparison document and all supporting materials to the Office of Inclusion, where another review is conducted. 

If the Office of Inclusion agrees that the non-protected candidate is more qualified, staff will approve and justify the decision and the offer can be extended. However, if the Office of Inclusion has reason to believe that the protected candidate is more qualified for the position, staff will contact the hiring manager to discuss the review before a final decision is made. “This step often leads to an educational moment,” said Getchell. “We are able to ask, ‘What lived experiences and skills does this protected group member bring to the table?’ Adding these steps helps to check for implicit bias and ensures that the most qualified candidate is selected for each position.”

This initiative officially launched on April 17, 2017.

Other steps that the MDH Office of Inclusion is taking to increase equity in the hiring process:

  • Centralizing the Americans with Disabilities Reasonable Accommodation Request Process. This creates a timely, interactive process between applicants, employees and employers in researching and ensuring what accommodations will successfully assist applicants and employees with disabilities.
  • Serving as a leader in the Connect 700 program. This program helps qualified applicants with disabilities navigate and bypass the competitive hiring process.
  • Focusing on targeted recruiting. MDH staff are working to connect with communities of color and people with disabilities directly in order to recruit them for jobs. This includes attending job fairs and partnering with other divisions in the agency to reach out to people in protected populations.
  • Exploring and expanding paid internship programs for high school students. This year MDH is able to support 7 paid internships, and plans to partner with high school placement programs in future years. 

Equity Toolbox

Advancing health equity is complex work that requires partnerships across organizations, agencies, and sectors. This section features tools and resources that can be used to advance health equity.

Advancing Health Equity Resource Library

In July 2015, a work group formed to come up with ways that local elected officials and local public health leaders could advance health equity throughout Minnesota’s governmental public health system. In late 2016, the workgroup released (1) a report with recommendations on how local health departments can help advance health equity, and (2) the Resource Library for Advancing Health Equity in Public Health—an online collection of tools, templates and resources to build local public health department capacity to advance health equity.

We sat down with the work group co-chairs, Olmsted County Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden and Bloomington Public Health Director Bonnie Paulsen, to learn more about the resource library.

Where did the idea for an online resource library come from?

Kiscaden: As the work group wrestled with the issue of how to advance health equity at the local level, a number of us went online looking for ideas and resources. We quickly realized there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach or tool to help health departments get started on addressing equity. We also recognized that local health departments have a lot on their plates and may lack the time, staff or expertise to find the right tool.

Paulsen: As Sheila said, it wasn’t any one thing that led to the creation of a library. Every agency needs a different tool – we are all starting in different places. That is not a value judgement; it is the reality of living in different communities and different sets of circumstances. My goal, as a co-chair, was to come out of the work group with something more than just a report.

Currently the library contains over 100 tools – articles, guides, toolkits, courses, slide decks and videos – and there are plans to add more. Every tool in the library includes a brief written summary, prepared by MDH Center for Public Health Practice team members, who have reviewed each tool. Their summaries include advice on when to use a tool and things to consider when using it.

Because the list of available tools is impressively long, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to dive in, so, we asked the co-chairs:

Do you have a favorite resource or one that you would recommend?

Kiscaden: I really like the Camara Jones TEDx Talk video “Allegories on Race and Racism.” It’s very relatable and engaging. We showed this video to our Public Health Advisory Board in Olmsted County, and it helped set the theme for their work for this year.

Paulsen: At Bloomington Public Health we have been “living” the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) lately. The IDI is an online survey to assess current intercultural competence at both an individual and organizational level. I had an opportunity to take the IDI as a part of my course work at Augsburg College. It was administered as a pre- and post-test to help gauge our progress along the intercultural continuum, and show progress as a result of our coursework. This convinced me of the value of having my staff take the IDI and get an initial training on it. We are continuing to use the IDI to guide our development at [the health department].

The Resource Library is free and open to everyone. While it was organized with local public health departments in mind, many other organizations will find value in the tools it contains. You can access the library at Resource Library for Advancing Health Equity in Public Health.

Subscribe to Health Equity Resource Library Updates to receive alerts whenever new resources are added. If you have questions about the library, or would like to suggest additions, please contact the MDH Public Health Practice Section at or 651-201-3880.

Resource library webpage screenshot

The Resource Library for Advancing Health Equity is an online collection of over 100 tools, templates and resources that can help advance health equity!

Events, Opportunities & Announcements

Congratulations to Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul

The Center for Health Equity is happy to congratulate one of its Eliminating Health Disparities Grantees, Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul’s Department of Indian Work, on receiving the 2017 Ramsey County Public Health Award for their work on the East Metro American Indian Diabetes Initiative! This award recognizes individuals and groups who have made exceptional contributions to improving health in Ramsey County. The East Metro American Indian Diabetes Initiative helps American Indians manage their diabetes by providing diabetes prevention services and assistance to the American Indian Community in the East Metro Area.

Staff from Department of Indian Work

The Department of Indian Work at Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul accepts the 2017 Ramsey County Public Health Award.

Apply to be a presenter at the 2017 Community Health Conference

The theme for the annual public health conference is “Be Part of the Conversation: Our Communities, Our Stories, Our Health.” The event will be held at Breezy Point Conference Center, Breezy Point, Minnesota on September 28 and 29.

The conference welcomes people from every community and the organizations that serve them, the state health department, local public health agencies, environmental health agencies, tribal health agencies, health plans and providers, educational institutions, and local elected officials.

All are encouraged to apply to present a concurrent session or a learning station. Deadline to submit a brief online application is May 19. Visit the Community Health Conference website for details at Be Part of the Conversation: Our Communities, Our Stories, Our Health.

Conference registration will open in July. Watch for more information on the conference website at Be Part of the Conversation: Our Communities, Our Stories, Our Health.

For more information, please contact: Becky Buhler, Public Health Practice, MDH at or 651-201-5795.


View February 2017 newsletter

Updated Monday, 07-Aug-2017 14:16:03 CDT