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Timely campaigns enlist employers on opioid abuse, health disparities

September 29, 2018

Minnesota is home to some of the worlds best doctors and hospitals. But within health care there are challenges so complex that even these experts need an energetic assist if real progress is to be made.

Two of these pressing issues are opioid painkiller addiction and the persistent health disparities plaguing poor or minority communities. The tide will only turn if more of the public engages in these critical public health battles.

Praise is due to Minnesotas business community for not only recognizing that fact but also for joining the fight recently with the launch of two innovative health education campaigns targeting these topics. This timely new work ought to serve as a model for businesses and business groups elsewhere.

The Minnesota Business Partnership (MBP) is behind one of the new efforts, which focuses on opioid addiction. The Twin Cities-based partnership includes more than 120 of the states CEOs and top executives.

With opioid-related overdoses killing about 400 Minnesotans a year, these executives have come to understand that theyre on the front lines. They are recognizing every day that this growing epidemic is affecting their workforce, said Charlie Weaver, MBPs executive director.

The partnerships member companies decided it only made sense to step up and try to help, with particular pushes from HealthPartners and Cargill executives. After teaming up with the Minnesota Department of Health, MBP recently rolled out its initiative. Its a tool kit for employers to use to educate staff, prepare for overdoses, and encourage treatment and promote help to get it.

The tool kit, which includes a video to share, is available from the Department of Health website, making it accessible for any company that wants to use it. Theres no need to be an MBP member.

Weaver said the tool kit may be especially useful for smaller companies without big human-resources departments. The framework can also be tailored to each companys needs and to different locations an important point when so many Minnesota firms have locations in other states and around the world.

The other welcome new campaign is from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, a well-known Minnesota health insurer. It takes aim at the higher rates of disease and other health burdens linked to race, income or gender. While Minnesota is one of the healthiest states in the country, it also has some of the worst health disparities, Blue Cross accurately noted in its rollout.

The Health Equity: Make It Your Business campaign aims to enlist the states employers as well. By wielding digital advertising, videos, a podcast and speeches by executives, the insurer intends to make the business leaders aware of the sometimes shocking health differences in Minnesota.

One example from the campaign: The mortality rate for African-American infants born in Minnesota is double that of white infants. Another data point: One-third of the counties in Minnesota have fewer than eight physicians per 10,000 residents, especially in the most rural areas of the state. Twenty-five counties in Minnesota have fewer than four dentists per 10,000 residents.

The spotlight is welcome and hopefully will spur business leaders across the state to do what they can for their employees and their communities. In addition, the campaign will inform the ongoing health care debate. There are several critical votes on health care access looming before the 2019 Legislature. It would be helpful to have the business community wielding its considerable leverage at the State Capitol to prevent lawmakers from going backward.

The two new campaigns reflect well on Minnesota and its business community. Company leaders across the state should take advantage of the new resources. Getting involved will help current staff and ensure the health of future employees.

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