Editor’s note: This story, sponsored by Callan Gray at KSTP.com The SoJo Exchange in St. Paul, Minnesota is part of the SoJo Exchange of the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting on responses to social issues. Louisiana Inspired features Solutions Journalism stories that provide tangible evidence that positive change is happening elsewhere and in our own communities—solutions that can be adopted around the world.
Minnesota has accepted more than 450,000 absentee ballots so far, with Election Day less than a week away. Doctors, nurses and other health care workers are helping provide access to polling places through an initiative to increase voter registration.
At Hopkins’ MyHealth for Teens and Young Adults clinic, patients learn how to take care of their own health and their community. Director Connie Robertson shares the material they use to talk to young people about voting.
“The way it works is through ‘What’s my voting residence?'” she explained, pointing to a fact sheet for college students. “If you had to vote early absentee, what would you do?”
A QR code on the form connects students to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website, which shares more information about voting registration and polling locations.
Posters in exam rooms and throughout the clinic also provide quick access to information via QR codes.
“Not everyone who comes to the clinic will see a nurse, a doctor or a therapist, because some of them might just be hanging out in the halls to support someone’s friend,” Robertson said. “If they see that sign in the hall while they’re sitting and waiting, … they can register to vote.”
The clinic provides medical and mental health care to teens regardless of their insurance status. Their mission is to reduce barriers to care, and in this case, voting.
“We see a lot of young people who feel helpless, they struggle with depression, they struggle with anxiety, they don’t feel like they have control over their lives, and this is a way of giving them some control, giving them some power,” Robertson said. “We’re definitely not leading people down a path where they have to vote one way or another – that’s their choice. We’re just giving them the resources and tools so they can act according to their values and beliefs. Make wise decisions.”
Their material grew out of a project MyHealth participated in last year called Vot-ER, a national initiative to increase voter participation.
In 2019, an emergency room doctor started a pilot program at Massachusetts General Hospital after he found a correlation between areas with low voter turnout and poorer health outcomes. Vot-ER has now grown to cover more than 500 hospitals, centers and clinics nationwide.
The nonpartisan group provides badges and other materials to health care professionals that can be used to help patients register to vote.
“There’s a QR code on the back, you just scan it and it takes you to the Vot-ER website, which connects you to whatever state you’re in,” says Dr. Sakina Naqvi, a pulmonary and critical care physician at M explain. Born beautiful.
The Vot-ER website connects patients with information on what’s on the ballot, polling place locations and how to register to vote. It also provides recommendations on how healthcare providers can have these conversations with patients.
Dr. Naqvi explained that she talks to patients about their voter registration status as they answer a series of health maintenance questions, including immunizations and housing status.
“It’s easier to have a conversation with a patient that you have a long-term relationship with,” Dr. Naqvi said. “Some patients are just surprised that we’re having this conversation, some are really excited that we’re talking about it, and others think it’s It doesn’t matter.”
She estimates she has helped about 15 people register to vote since M Health Fairview began getting involved two years ago. Since Vot-ER launched, about a dozen Minnesota clinics and systems have participated.
Since 2020, Vot-ER has helped more than 66,000 people register or register to vote by mail nationwide, according to a spokesperson.
“Civic engagement has a direct impact on the social determinants of health, which are housing, food insecurity,” said Dr. Naqvi, who said the pandemic has highlighted the role of health care in political discourse. “I think it’s becoming more pronounced. There’s a lot of disparity in outcomes for people of lower socioeconomic status. The uninsured and underinsured have worse outcomes, and I think that really brings the need to be involved in the local community to the fore. cutting edge.”
Robertson has seen clear health benefits of voting in patients treated at MyHealth clinics.
“They suddenly felt that I could make a difference, that my ideas, my voice mattered,” she said.
For more information on MyHealth for Teens and Young Adults, click here.