Left to right: Bukata Hayes, Dana Erickson, Dr. Antony Stately, Dr. Nathan Chomilo, Sameerah Bilal-Roby and Carolyn Link. Credit: Jason Daum

“We can’t address health equity without addressing racial equity. And we can’t address racial equity without engaging with community and being led by community. And that requires that we show up. You can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to show up.” – Dr. Nathan Chomilo

This was one of many takeaways at a recent event hosted by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation. Titled “Building Healthy Generations,” the event convened more than 100 leaders in racial and health equity to engage in critical conversations around health, inequitable access to care, and racial justice.

Led by keynote Bukata Hayes, chair of the Blue Cross Foundation board and vice president of racial and health equity and chief equity officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, the event featured insights and conversations from Dana Erickson, Blue Cross Foundation board member and President and CEO of Blue Cross, Dr. Nathan Chomilo, medical director for Minnesota’s Medicaid and MinnesotaCare programs, Sameerah Bilal-Roby, founder and director of the African American Babies Coalition, and Dr. Antony Stately, president of the Native American Community Clinic.

Bukata Hayes delivering keynote address. Credit: Jason Daum

Here are four takeaways from the event:

Advancing racial and health equity requires starting from a place of truth

Panelists were asked to share successful strategies in collaborating across sectors to advance racial and health equity. Dr. Nathan Chomilo shared that an essential component of working together is having a shared understanding of the issues:

“We have to have truth. We have to start from a place of what’s really happening, what’s the foundation that we have and the truth in where we are right now. Because we can’t be working toward dismantling something if we aren’t actually working toward the same problem.”

Intentional efforts advance equity and improve health

Dr. Antony Stately reflected on the importance of focusing on communities who are most impacted by inequities:

“When we do a good job of taking care of the people at the so-called ‘bottom rung,’ everybody benefits from that work. When we take better care of our Black and Indigenous people – the people in our communities who are the most disenfranchised, who have the least – everybody benefits.”

A timely example of this is the current process of redetermination within the state’s healthcare programs, Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare. Minnesotans who are enrolled in these programs must re-enroll to keep their coverage for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. (Read more about the redetermination process here and here.)

Dr. Chomilo shared that approximately one in four Minnesotans is enrolled in state healthcare programs. A closer look at the data reveals that 40% of Black Minnesotans, 60% of Black Minnesota children and 80% of Black mothers and birthing persons get their healthcare coverage through state healthcare programs.

Research shows that uninsured people are far more likely than those with insurance to delay healthcare or go without it entirely – the effects of which can be devastating. Working together to maintain and increase healthcare coverage across Minnesota is essential to both the health of communities most impacted by inequities, and the overall health of the state.

Panelists Dr. Nathan Chomilo, Dr. Antony Stately and Sameerah Bilal-Roby. Credit: Jason Daum

Everyone has a role to play

Despite Minnesota being hailed as one of the healthiest states, it is also home to some of the worst racial and health inequities in the country.

Addressing those inequities requires stamina and perseverance, and a commitment from everyone to move the work forward. As Dr. Stately shared, “We have the ability to change this. This is not a question of skill or money. This is completely about will – the intention and decision to step forward and do something different than what we’ve been doing. To change this, every single one of us is required to step forward, step up, and show up.”

 Sameerah Bilal-Roby also reminded attendees of the importance of supporting each other, saying that “We’re all in this together. The work of everybody is to think as family, and to be kind with each other – because we need it and because the work is so hard.”

Dr. Chomilo also appealed to attendees to think about where they had power and influence, regardless of job title or sector, saying that “We won’t be able to fix everything by ourselves, but what do we have power over?”

For the Blue Cross Foundation, Dana Erickson reiterated the Foundation’s belief that racism is a public health crisis. She also affirmed the Foundation’s commitment to advancing racial and health equity to ensure everyone has what they need to live their healthiest life.

Generating better outcomes

Bukata Hayes closed the event by asking those present to think about healthy generations and to reflect on what our state will collectively generate going forward to create better outcomes:

“Justice is a long road. Dr. King talked about the arc. The arc does not bend just because it bends. It bends because we apply pressure in the direction that we want the arc to go. I imagine folks looking back on our state in 10 to 20 years. And they will ask – did we have the will to generate better outcomes, and more health, for our state?”

Watch the full Building Healthy Generations event here.


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