For Immediate Release
SAINT PAUL, MINN. — On October 2, 2019, in Brainerd, MN, the Minnesota Department of Health announced recipients of its annual Community Health Awards. These annual awards honor Minnesota public health advocates for their leadership, impact, and service. The 2019 recipient of the Lou Fuller Award for Distinguished Service in Eliminating Health Disparities is Pat Swanson.
The Lou Fuller Award for Distinguished Service in Eliminating Health Disparities is given to an individual or organization who demonstrates an outstanding commitment to eliminating health disparities in populations of color and American Indians. Pat Swanson started her career as an adolescent nutritionist working with the Maternal Infant Care Program (MIC) at Ramsey Hospital supporting young parents and pregnant teens. The MIC approach was to provide each patient access to a perinatal educator, a registered dietician, a medical provider, and a social worker. Seeing the barriers young women faced in accessing care, the entire team uprooted themselves and moved to the patients: in 1972, they opened an integrated health clinic in a broom closet in the nearby Saint Paul Public School, Mechanic Arts. This singular clinic, which eventually grew into Health Start School-Based Clinics, was the genesis of school-based health in Minnesota and the nation; 46 years later, there are over 2,000 school based clinics across the country and Pat Swanson is considered a founder of the school-based health model. As Pat says, “I was lucky to have participated in opening most of the school based clinics we have [in St. Paul] today.”
Pat eventually became the Supervisor of Clinical Nutrition at Health Start, a program of Minnesota Community Care since 2003, until she retired in July, 2019 after 40 years of service.
Pat developed numerous initiatives with a deep compassion and studied understanding of the specific needs of youth most affected by racial, economic, and social disparities. She worked in pursuit of nutritional wellness that was palatable and feasible for kids and families living in poverty. She investigated her students’ cultures and favorite foods. Pat listened, and consistently helped her clients see the connection between what they consumed and how they felt. With Irene Alton, Sharon Windorski, and Gloria Ferguson, Pat developed a successful diabetes and heart disease prevention program for youth called Fit Team. Minnesota Community Care was recently awarded an Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative (EHDI) grant from the Minnesota Department of Health based upon this framework. In reflecting upon her career and its impact, Pat says, “We are here because health disparities exist and one of the most significant factors is nutrition.” Pat’s legacy integrates the work of clinical nutritionists, advanced practice medical providers, fitness instructors, and health educators to curb obesity and prevent diabetes among youth in St. Paul Public Schools.
In the words of her longtime coworker and friend Sandy Naughton, Manager of Health Promotion at Minnesota Community Care, “Pat has always gone above and beyond what would have been expected from a service provider. She is no less giving to staff. I always know that she will help me put things in perspective and remind me that things will work out if we keep our eyes on what matters.”
Our history and our success on behalf of thousands of young patients is indivisible from Pat’s compassion, her wisdom, and her leadership. We thank Pat for her life’s work and congratulate her on being the 2019 recipient of the Lou Fuller Award for Distinguished Service in Eliminating Health Disparities.