Building the vegetable garden from the ground up at the Church of the Assumption in Richfield wasn’t easy.

It took a team from Fairview, in addition to church staff, volunteers and congregation members, countless hours, 35 yards of dirt and more than 30 raised garden beds to make it all happen.

In the end, though, Alissa LeRoux Smith, community health and volunteer services manager for Fairview Southdale Hospital, says it was one of the biggest points of pride in her career so far.

“It was such a symbolic moment of people from very different, very diverse backgrounds coming together as a team to achieve a common goal,” she says. “I learned quickly that the key to success in community health really lies in building relationships through engaging directly with the community. You can’t do this work from the sidelines. You have to show the community that you are invested in their well-being, and to do that, you have to jump in and get your hands dirty.”

A broad impact

That type of community project is only one example of the work our community health managers do throughout the Fairview system and the communities we serve.

Providing screening and counseling at health fairs, leading community education presentations, reaching out to underserved populations and implementing evidence-based programs such as Mental Health First Aid and Chronic Disease Self-Management are just a few of the ways the team is making a difference.

Community health managers are involved in these initiatives from start to finish: from planning and coordinating to delivery and evaluation. They monitor budgets, assist in funding searches and grant proposals, and the key to it all—working directly with community members and partners.

“The main goal of my role is to serve the community and help improve the health of the community,” says Pa Chia, community health project manager at University of Minnesota Medical Center.

The list of partners they work with is extensive, including mental health therapists, nurses and physicians, massage therapists, community health workers and liaisons, faith leaders, facilitators, exercise and nutrition instructors, interpreters and colleagues from community health.

Serving the community

Those partnerships shape the work the community health team engages in by helping to determine the unmet health needs of the communities we serve and extend internal resources outside the hospital walls.

With the Affordable Care Act in 2012, all non-profit hospitals across the country were mandated to conduct a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) to assess the needs of the community and develop and implement an action plan to meet those needs.

Fairview had a long history of doing community benefit work that varied at each hospital, but Alissa says the new mandate inspired the team to look more closely at how community health is structured, in addition to focusing on standardization across the system.

While that consistency will take time to develop, the work the community health team is doing remains as important as ever.

“It is always a challenge to get the word out about what we do, but I think it is important to show that Fairview is committed to and invested in its communities,” says Alissa. “Improving the health of the communities we serve really takes all of us working inside and outside the hospital walls.”

The most difficult part, Alissa says, is determining and maintaining the scope of their work.

“There is a vast array of unmet health needs in our community, but we, like everyone else, have limited resources,” she says. “I know all of us in community health are very passionate about our work and it is difficult to have to say ‘no’ to new initiatives or collaborations.”

Working with a passion

Despite those limitations, however, the team continues to make an incredible impact on the communities touched by their work—and that work is made all the better by the inspired and passionate team behind the effort.

“I went into the field of public health with a desire to help people prevent disease and promote their health and well-being,” says Pa Chia. “I am proud when the work we do as a team makes an impact in the lives of community members and helps to improve their health.”

Alissa says her belief that health care is a basic human right and that every person should have the means to care for their health and the health of their families is her driving motivation.

“I love my job because I get to partner with others to reduce barriers or provide new resources in an effort to improve health,” she says. “It isn’t always easy, and mistakes happen, but you learn and grow and keep showing up. That’s what’s most important if you want to inspire change.”