Cedar-Riverside Health Commons expands mental health services and other initiatives

The expanded location in Riverside Plaza hopes to break down language and cultural barriers in the largely immigrant community.

Samantha Hendrickson

Following the recent reopening of the Health Commons amid the coronavirus pandemic, M Health Fairview — a partnership with Fairview and the University of Minnesota — is exploring new ways to support the Cedar-Riverside community.

On Sept. 24, M Health Fairview, alongside other community institutions, publicly announced several new initiatives at Health Commons’ new location in Riverside Plaza. Cedar-Riverside is known for its largely East African immigrant population and has been hit hard by COVID-19 and by the opioid crisis. Services and initiatives include the hiring of a local Somali nurse, socially-distanced community spaces, a peer recovery specialist and new mental health and addiction programs.

The organization’s goal is to better serve the community in these areas by creating an environment where the community feels comfortable and understood.

In 2018, 343 Minnesotans died from opioid overdose, and more than one-third of those deaths were in Hennepin County, according data from the Minnesota Department of Health and the county. Statewide, 1,949 nonfatal opioid-involved overdoses also occurred.

“We have these kinds of services that are culturally inclusive right in the neighborhoods so that they don’t have to worry about barriers,” said Nawal Hirsi, the community engagement manager for Health Commons.

Obstacles like language, cultural differences and transportation are often unfair “social determinants of health” that can limit accessibility to health resources in communities like Cedar-Riverside, according to Hirsi.

M Health Fairview also included Cedar-Riverside in its annual mobile Minnesota Immunization Networking Initiative (MINI) clinic to offer the neighborhood free flu shots. The MINI clinic runs more than 100 mobile clinics throughout the metro area in the months leading up to flu season each year.

Concern is building nationwide for the upcoming flu season as it clashes with increasing COVID-19 cases, especially in communities with limited access to health services.

“It’s more important than ever to get your flu shot,” said Ingrid Johansen, M Health Fairview’s manager of Clinical Care and Outreach and Community Advancement who has spearheaded the MINI Clinic since its start. “We don’t want people to skip it this year because of just added barriers and concerns over COVID.”

Over the last 14 years, MINI clinic has given out more than 90,000 flu shots to neighborhoods across the Twin Cities and now offers COVID-19 testing.

Council member Jamal Osman and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also showed support for the new expansion. Both were present at the reopening last month.

“This is not just about Band-Aids and pharmaceuticals,” Frey said. “This is creating a continuum of care that is culturally informed and comfortable for anyone in the neighborhood.”

Osman, the newly elected Ward 6 council member, is open about his passion for combating the opioid crisis and breaking down cultural stigmas surrounding mental health. He said he thinks that services like those at Health Commons are a great first step to healing neighborhoods and strengthening Cedar-Riverside.

“We can educate the community that [they’re] not alone,” Osman said. “Get rid of the stigma, and help the community heal.”

Correction: A previous version of this article mischaracterized the relationship between M Health Fairview and the University of Minnesota.