Healthcare Professionals Help Increase Voter Registration Through Outreach | Entertainment/Life

Editor’s Note: This story, written by Callan Gray at in St. Paul, Minnesota, is part of the Solutions Journalism Network’s SoJo Exchange, a non-profit dedicated to rigorous reporting on responses to social problems. Louisiana Inspired features Solutions Journalism stories that provide tangible evidence that positive change is happening right now in other places and in our communities — solutions that can be adopted around the world.

So far, more than 450,000 absentee ballots have been accepted in Minnesota with less than a week to Election Day. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare personnel are helping provide a path to the polls through an initiative to increase voter registration.

At the MyHealth for Teens and Young Adults clinic in Hopkins, patients learn how to take care of their health and their community. Filmmaker Connie Robertson shared the materials they use to talk to young people about voting.

A resident leaves the voting booth after casting his ballot during the December election, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022, on Valley Creek Drive in Baton Rouge, La.

“That sort of steps through ‘What’s my electoral residence?'” he explained, pointing to a fact sheet for college students. “And if you have to vote early by mail, how do you do it?”

A QR code on the sheet connects students to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website, which shares more information about registering to vote and polling places.

Posters in the exam rooms and throughout the clinic also provide quick access to information via a QR code.

“Not everyone who walks into the clinic is going to see a nurse or doctor or therapist because some of them may just be friends hanging out in the lobby to support someone,” Robertson said. “If they see that sign in the lobby when they’re sitting and waiting, … they might register to vote.” HS 177 copy.jpg

Election Commissioner Gwen Fabre, center, watches as Stephanie McKnight and her son, Louis McKnight, 4, leave after casting their ballots during the December election, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022, on Valley Creek Drive in Baton Rouge, La.

The clinic provides medical care and mental health care to young people, regardless of their insurance status. Their mission is to reduce barriers to assistance and, in this case, voting.

“We see a lot of young adults feeling powerless, they struggle with depression, anxiety, they don’t feel like they have control over their lives and this is a way to give them some control, give them some power.” Robertson said. “We definitely don’t lead people down a path where they have to vote one way or the other – that’s their choice. We just give them the resources and tools so they can make informed decisions about their values ​​and beliefs.

Their materials evolved from a program MyHealth participated in last year called Vot-ER, which is a national initiative to increase voter participation.

An emergency room doctor started a pilot program at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2019, after seeing a correlation between areas of low turnout and worse health outcomes. Vot-ER has now grown to reach more than 500 hospitals, centers and clinics nationwide. HS 163 copy.jpg

Election Commissioner Gwen Fabre watches as residents cast their ballots during the December election, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022, on Valley Creek Drive in Baton Rouge, La.

The nonpartisan organization provides badges and other materials to healthcare professionals, which can be used to help patients register to vote.

“There’s a QR code on the back and you just scan it and it takes you to the Vot-ER website, which links you to the state you’re in,” explained Dr. Sakina Naqvi, a pulmonary and critical care physician for M Health fair.

The Vot-ER website connects patients with information about what’s on their ballot, polling place location, and how to register to vote. It also provides tips on how healthcare professionals can approach these conversations with their patients.

Dr. Naqvi explained that she talks to patients about their voter registration status as they go through a variety of questions about maintaining health, including immunization and housing status. HS 041 copy.jpg

Residents check in to cast their ballots during the December election, Saturday, December 10, 2022, on Valley Creek Drive in Baton Rouge, La.

“It’s easier to have a conversation with patients you’ve been in long-term relationships with,” said Dr. Naqvi. “Some patients are just surprised that we’re having this conversation, some people are really excited that we’re talking about it, and some people find it irrelevant.”

He estimates he’s helped about 15 people register to vote since M Health Fairview started participating two years ago. About a dozen Minnesota clinics and systems have participated in Vot-ER since it launched.

Vot-ER has helped more than 66,000 people register or subscribe to mail-in ballots since 2020 nationwide, according to a spokesperson.

“Civic engagement has a direct impact on the social determinants of health, which is housing, food insecurity,” said Dr. Naqvi, who said the pandemic has emphasized the role of healthcare in political discourse. “I think it’s been made a lot more obvious. There were many disparities in outcomes with people who are of lower socioeconomic status. Uninsured and underinsured people had worse outcomes and I think that really brought the need to get involved in their local communities to the fore.”

Robertson sees a clear health benefit to voting among patients who treat at the MyHealth clinic.

“They suddenly feel like I can make a difference, my thoughts, my voice are important,” she said.

For more information about MyHealth for Teens and Young Adults, click here.

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