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Essentia participates in home, health equity fellowship

The program will teach representatives from Minnesota health systems about how social determinants of health caused by housing inequity can be addressed.

Essentia buildings.
Essentia Health campus in Duluth.
Steve Kuchera / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Essentia Health is one of six Minnesota health systems participating in the Housing & Health Equity Initiative, a fellowship program studying community impact investments and practices to address social determinants of health through housing. The Minnesota cohort involves 30 fellows, including five representatives from Essentia Health.

The yearlong program is hosted by the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, Minnesota Housing and the Center for Community Investment. The fellows will meet through December, then will return to their communities to apply what they learn to help address housing inequality to improve health outcomes. Allina Health, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CentraCare, Children's Minnesota and M-Health Fairview are also participating.

Each health care team has a unique goal related to community impact investing, advancing community health and coherently addressing health equity. Essentia stated its goal is centered on bringing positive change to Duluth's Central Hillside neighborhood, but also hopes to use the strategies learned from the Housing & Home Equity Initiative to support health equity in other communities across Essentia's service area.

The fellows from Essentia are Tonya Loken, director of community relations; Kevin Boren, vice president of finance; Emily Kuenstler, director of community health; Mary Strasser, senior vice president of population health; Russell Habermann, program manager of community health; and Janice Schade, senior vice president of operations.

“At Essentia Health, we understand it’s hard to be healthy without a home and that community inequities contribute to health disparities," Strasser said. "Our teams work hard to develop programs and partnerships with community organizations to support vulnerable populations in the communities we’re privileged to serve."


The remaining work on the largest private investment in Duluth's history includes completion of construction details, installation of equipment and furniture, and staff training.

In a news release, the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund said the organization has long believed the link between housing, health, and equity is the most critical social determinant of health.

"Housing is a key multiplier for outcomes that improve family and community health including education, income security, safety, connectivity, and even mental health,” Eric Muschler, director of the Housing & Health Equity Initiative, said in the release.

More information about the Housing & Health Equity study can be found at gmhf.com/programs/minnesota-housing-health-equity-initiative.

Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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