Health literacy is a crucial skill for all Americans, but many still have much to learn. Though great strides have been made in educating the population on health and wellness issues like diet and exercise, many communities are still in need of further educational opportunities for families seeking to live healthier lives.
With this in mind, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation (BCBSMN Foundation) tapped the experts when it comes to literacy: public libraries. The BCBSMN Foundation collaborated with local public libraries to develop an educational initiative, dubbed Public Libraries for Health. The program is part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield national commitment to demonstrating The Power of Blue – the power to make a difference in and improve the health of the communities we serve.
Public Libraries for Health began in late 2012, when the BCBSMN Foundation awarded grants to four Minnesota libraries to fund projects that promoted health equity in their communities. The libraries worked in collaboration with other area nonprofits to develop library-based projects that engaged low-income communities to improve health, build employment skills, increase educational opportunities and promote social connections and family support.
In Austin, Minnesota, the Austin Public Library held 40 cooking classes that taught 400 people how to prepare healthy meals. The library conducted special outreach to the Latino community, as well as to HeadStart parents, people in the process of learning English, new immigrants and special needs adults. The library also hosted an herb garden workshop and taught participants how to use the library to find health information.
Based on the success of the first year, the BCBSMN Foundation provided financial support to three additional Minnesota libraries. The grants were used to develop health insurance enrollment and literacy programs, attract more low-income patrons, and enhance services to transitional housing and homeless patrons.
The BCBSMN Foundation continues to collaborate with all the library grantees and together are working to create a toolkit to help libraries across the country replicate the program in their communities.
Across the country, Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are using The Power of Blue to improve healthcare access, enable healthier living, and improve healthcare quality and affordability in our local communities. To find more examples of The Power of Blue in action, download the full Investing in America’s Health report.