In spring 2002, the Blue Cross Foundation made grants to nine organizations around the state to improve access to and use of preventive medical and dental services for children and teens. Focused on the needs of immigrant communities and communities of color, the $1.4 million Growing Up Healthy program aims ultimately to improve the health of Minnesotans at higher risk for lifelong health disparities.
The grants also address specific barriers to preventive care, including limited English fluency, unfamiliarity with the health care system, shortages of health care providers (especially those who are culturally competent), cultural isolation, cultural attitudes toward preventive care and health care coverage. Recent studies indicate that American Indians, populations of color, foreign-born populations and low-income families are over-represented among Minnesota’s uninsured.
In awarding the grants, the foundation sought diversity in the types of organizations, the strategies used and the populations served. Growing Up Healthy grantees included schools, immigrant-led mutual assistance organizations, nonprofit dental providers, academic institutions, parenting support groups and health clinics.
Growing Up Healthy reached an estimated 17,500 people in two years. In keeping with the goals of the initiative, over 90 percent of children who received or were connected with a preventive health or dental exam were in communities of color.
The projects increased access to preventive services for families of color through three primary methods:
Partnerships were forged among communities of color and/or recent immigrant groups, health providers and other organizations. Fifty different agencies collaborated with Growing Up Healthy grantees. Health and dental care providers strengthened their cultural competence through training and through the integration of bicultural or bilingual community health workers.
In addition, projects repeatedly found that many families needed help with basic needs and crisis issues such as acute health problems, loss of housing, lack of financial resources and legal problems — priorities that needed to be addressed first, before families could receive and accept preventive health messages.
Blue Cross Foundation staff observed that working with the nine grantees through Growing Up Healthy has helped them think about their new strategic direction. With a focus on addressing socio-economic and environmental barriers to preventive care, Growing Up Healthy provides valuable learning and services as a bridge to the foundation’s new grantmaking priorities.