Cedar-Riverside project aims to improve health care accessibility for residents

A Mixed Blood Theatre project promotes discussion between community members and health care providers.

Kelly Busche

A new project in Cedar-Riverside seeks to mend cultural gaps between community members and health care providers. 

The Mixed Blood Theatre’s 154 Project pairs medical providers and patients to start conversations about health care challenges, which cause some to avoid treatment altogether.

Madilynn Garcia, 154 Project manager, said the partnerships will help bridge cultural gaps between patients and providers in the community.

With 93 different languages spoken in the area, Garcia said health care providers can feel overwhelmed.

Abdirizak Bihi, director of Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center and a project partner, said those involved hope to better understand why some community members evade medical attention.

“What we are trying to do is to see the perceptions of health care, what makes them not go to a doctor,” Bihi said.

This year’s measles outbreak in Cedar-Riverside was a product of people avoiding medical treatment, he said, as some believed the vaccination made women sterile.

“There are a lot of things that we would like to see what the community thinks [about health care], because sometimes people might think the wrong thing for their health,” Bihi said.

The 154 Project will encourage community members and care providers to share experiences in story circles.

The stories will focus on navigating the health care system, Garcia said, and will “identify what are areas that we want health care providers to know about.”

Cedar-Riverside’s East African community has traditionally shared stories orally, Bihi said. 

“It’s easy to … tell their story rather than write about it,” Bihi said.

The story circle atmosphere is better suited to communicate health care problems, Garcia said. 

“We don’t want to make assumptions about the needs of the community, I think that that has happened enough,” she said.

The story circles give health care professionals a unique opportunity to listen, Garcia said.

Syl Jones, director of narrative health and medicine at the Hennepin County Medical Center, will facilitate the discussions.

Jones said he will teach narrative health techniques — the idea that people can control the progression of an illness — to the project’s participants.

“It really comes down to taking responsibility for your own health care,” he said.

The 154 Project will share the feedback with health care professionals in the Cedar-Riverside community to better respond to resident needs. 

The health care stories give medical providers information that can shape health recommendations, Jones said.

“Your health care story tells us a lot about … why you may be ill and what you can do to get well,” Jones said.

The project will also direct participants to community resources, Garcia said.

“We [will] shine a light on resources that are already in front of them so that they can become better utilized,” she said.

The Mixed Blood Theatre will hold its first 154 Project story circle on Oct. 16. The discussions will be held roughly once per week until mid-December. 

“Everything that we do goes back to the idea that when people have the opportunity to share their stories, we will see positive health outcomes,” Garcia said.