A crisis won't necessarily change us, but it will always reveal who we need to be.
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be one of those revelatory events in the communities that our institutions serve. When the world seemed to turn upside down and wide swaths of our communities felt unmoored by events, our anchors become even more important.
Take for example Cedar-Riverside, one of the Twin Cities' most diverse neighborhoods. It is rich with the culture and community of East African immigrants, refugees and first-generation Minnesotans who have made this state their home over the last three decades. But through the pandemic, Cedar-Riverside also served as an example of the deep inequities faced by people of color in our state.
That is why Augsburg University and Fairview Health Services, while focused on our specific missions through the pandemic, have also continued to embrace our responsibilities as anchor institutions that our communities rely on. Our work in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, both separately and in cooperation, is intended to help our neighborhood thrive. But this is not just "do-gooderism." We also have mutual interest.
The Health Commons in Cedar-Riverside, a partnership led by M Health Fairview and Augsburg University, is a health-focused drop-in center offering services including health check-ups, locally sourced food programs, exercise classes and connections that foster health and relationships in the community. During the pandemic, Fairview and Augsburg have worked with our partners at the Health Commons — the East Africa Health Project, People's Center Clinics & Services and Sherman Associates — to expand our locations and programming in the neighborhood. For example, we responded to the need for trusted providers to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in culturally relevant ways by organizing vaccine events in the Riverside Plaza Apartments.
The Health Commons was able to expand its impact during the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to prior relationships and commitments we have made as anchor institutions over many years. More than 80% of Health Commons visitors reported making positive changes toward a healthier lifestyle because of its services. The visitors at the Health Commons in Cedar-Riverside are parents raising children, students and entrepreneurs. They are elders who lead and protect their cultures and traditions. They are our community leaders and our workforce and economy. In our community, we all rely on each other.
Another example is the Urban Scrubs Camps hosted by Augsburg and Saint Paul College. Fairview partners in these weeklong immersion programs giving high school students from the neighborhood a first-hand introduction to working in healthcare fields. The hope is that this introduction will inspire young people to pursue education and careers in healthcare. So inspired, they can fill critical roles at healthcare organizations like Fairview, certainly in Minneapolis, but also in Maple Grove, Woodbury, Edina and other growing cities.
Yes, Augsburg and Fairview are not-for-profit organizations with community service at the core of our missions. Our work is to educate and heal our communities, but we also know that our impact extends beyond our walls. As large employers in the state, we have an obligation and a business imperative to use our economic power to ensure that our neighborhoods — all of them — thrive. To do so, we're leveraging our everyday business practices such as inclusive hiring, local and sustainable purchasing, and place-based investing in a way that contributes to the overall well-being of our communities.
The pandemic revealed the interdependence of people, employers and the economy in our local communities. Imagine our potential if all pieces worked toward a shared success. All employers — not just those who, like us, are moored in place by mission and history — rely on thriving communities to assure their own future. We implore our peers: commit to train and hire locally, purchase locally and invest locally. Choose to embrace the role of being an anchor institution in our community.
James Hereford is president and CEO of Fairview Health Services. Paul Pribbenow is the president of Augsburg University