Mercy, Unity launch broad neighborhood health effort

Can a neighborhood work together to improve the health of individuals and families?

That is a question Mercy and Unity hospitals are intent on answering as they launch a broad-based neighborhood health program sponsored by Allina Health.

This grass roots program is designed to support wellness and promote healthy lifestyles – one neighborhood at a time.

Neighborhood Health Connection ( will provide tools and resources to help people join with their neighbors to improve health for themselves and their communities, according to Dr. John R. Finnegan, dean of the school of public health at the University of Minnesota.

“This kind of approach is exactly what is needed to improve the health of individuals and populations while lowering the cost of care,” said Finnegan.

“A large body of research clearly shows that social networks and social supports play a huge role in achieving better health. In many ways, communities are the means by which better health is created.”

Neighborhood Health Connection will give community members the tools to become champions of health in their neighborhoods, according to Craig Malm, director of community engagement for Mercy and Unity hospitals.

Neighborhood group leaders will have access to support and materials to start various healthy neighborhood activities, Malm said.

This will include free health screenings and social networking tools to share success stories and to provide personal support for health improvement, he said.

“We’re excited to hear from our community members on activities that they believe will benefit themselves and their neighbors,” Malm said.

“The most successful activities usually come from individuals familiar their own neighborhoods.

“Examples we’ve heard to date include walking clubs, yoga classes and cooking seminars,”

Neighborhood Health Connection also encourages participants to come up with their own ideas, such as hosting a yoga class, Malm said.

They can apply for grants from Allina Health for up to $250 to support their healthy neighborhood activities.

Finding ways to engage people in healthy activities has always been a tough challenge, according to Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Edward Ehlinger.

“Programs like this, that harness the power of social connections and support, may be just what many people need to take a more active role in their health,” Ehlinger said.

According to Dr. Courtney Baechler, medical director of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, a part of Allina Health neighborhood level, programs like Neighborhood Health Connection and others to come are examples of how the hospitals can build relationships that extend beyond the walls of the hospitals and clinics to facilitate better health for communities.”