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Published on Tuesday, April 3, 2018

County Board honors two for Public Health contributions

As part of National Health Week, the St. Louis County Board presented its third annual Public Health Achievement Awards, recognizing Heather Hemphill Keely and The Rutabaga Project. Below are the comments of Public Health and Human Services Director Linnea Mirsch, describing the work of her staff, and the outstanding contributions of the two honorees.


The first week of April is recognized as National Public Health Week.  This week provides a wonderful opportunity to highlight the St. Louis County County public health system and many of the partners involved in working towards healthy outcomes for individuals and communities.  Today, we are honored to recognize two specific partners who have demonstrated high achievement in promoting healthy communities in St Louis County.


public health logoOur local governmental public health system works through primary prevention and early intervention initiatives across the life span and with individuals as well as community systems.  Public Health Nurses, Health Educators, Nutritionists, and many other disciplines assure that children with special health needs are assessed for growth and developmental milestones, young families receive nutrition education and access to healthy food, and that the County's growing elderly population has coordinated care and are living independently as long as possible.  We continue to strengthen our work with moms who are at-risk of abusing substances during pregnancy.  We have developed new relationships with the pharmacy community for the purposes of combating the opioid crisis through multiple strategies.  We have worked with a local school district in assessing their capacity and their needs in preventing youth mental health crises and then partnering to address those needs. We have also collaborated with area hospital systems to create a web-based platform for health-related data that is community specific to St Louis County, and accessible to everyone.


Over the last year, with your support, the public health division has strengthened its capacity in substance abuse prevention, infectious disease prevention and control, health informatics, and health promotion.


In the Public Health world, we often say that when a community has a strong public health system it often goes unnoticed because health outcomes are positive, safety nets are not maxed out, and healthy behaviors are the norm.  Through National Public Health Week, we are reminded of the importance of preventing, promoting and protecting the health of our communities and the role that our public health system has in this.  Thank you for your support in this behind-the-scenes work of moving St Louis County’s public health system forward.  The public health professionals that work for you and County residents are committed, innovative, and forward-thinking.  I am always humbled by the important work they do and the professionalism through which they do it.


It’s a special day when we are able to recognize individuals and organizations that make up the fabric of the public health system.  The St Louis County Public Health Achievement Awards honor community organizations, businesses or residents who demonstrate a commitment to improving the health of individuals, families, and communities.  This year we are recognizing one individual and a community organization and celebrating their roles in promoting healthy outcomes.  This year both our recipients are from northern St. Louis County.


Heather Hemphill Keely public health achievement award

The County Board honored Heather Hemphill Keely (center) along with her daughter, Kaylee Anderson, and husband, Bret Keely.


Heather Hemphill Keely cares deeply about the health of the Chisholm community.  When there is a crisis on the Iron Range, Heather is most often one of the first to respond with “how can I help?”.  A few years ago, it was brought to Heather’s attention that there were many kids going without lunch during the summer months with their parents away at work.  Heather started offering lunches to the children out of her store every day – which soon turned into over 60-80 lunches to pack every morning.  There was such a need that Heather worked with the United Way and the organization’s “Meet up and Chow Down” program became a pilot in Chisholm, and has now expanded to Hibbing.  Heather is currently working on emergency bags for domestic violence and sexual assault victims to use when they have to flee/leave in the middle of the night or in an emergency.  She is also working with St Louis County Foster Care, to put together care bags for children who have to leave an unsafe environment.


Heather runs the Carousel Thrift Store, now the Carousel Charity and Donation Center in Chisholm.  Heather just about does it all when it comes to improving the health of the community. Please join me in recognizing Heather Hemphill Keely for her commitment to improving the public’s health.

The second Public Health Achievement Award goes to the Rutabaga Project.  In January 2016, the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA) and the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability launched the Rutabaga Project in Virginia with an aim of improving access to healthy food.  At the onset, members of the Project conducted a needs assessment and multiple community “meal and conversation” events to understand the barriers to accessing local healthy foods.  One of the top priorities that emerged was to promote children and parents together at farmers market and starting a garden together.  The Project sponsored a “Power of Produce” club for children at the local farmers market with over 200 children buying their own produce each week.  Through the Project, $6,200 SNAP dollars stayed within the Virginia local economy.  Another priority that the Rutabaga Project identified was to meet transportation needs.  The Project piloted a transportation program for groceries using Arrowhead Transit buses.  The program is now being refined to use volunteer drivers.


The Rutabaga Project - Public Health Achievement Award

The Rutabaga Project partners: Brian Bluhm, Jeannine Carlson and Lareesa Sandretsky, were honored by the County Board


The Rutabaga Project is a great example of the power of community with so many partners contributing to it’s success.  The City of Virginia donated land for the farmer’s market and community garden; the University of Minnesota Extension, Essentia Health, and Healthy Northland provided funds; the Housing and Redevelopment Authority provided space for garden plots and facility space; the Natural Harvest Food Coop partners in the meal kit program; the YMCA provided support…and so many more individuals and organizations have contributed to this Project with the aim of bringing healthy and accessible foods to the Virginia community.  Please join me in recognizing Brian Bluhm and community partners from the Rutabaga Project for their achievement in advancing public health.

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Author: Dana Kazel

Categories: St. Louis County Spotlight



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Dana Kazel 
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«May 2018»

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