Building Community Health in Rural Minnesota

Minnesota is one of the healthiest states in the country. It is also home to some of the worst health disparities. Many communities across the state do not have opportunities to make healthy choices and lack access to health care.

Beginning in 2015, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota partnered with the community of Willmar, MN (population 19,610) to engage residents in creating a healthy community for all. This was done by creating a broader, shared definition of community health, connecting across cultures and sectors, and investing in diverse local leadership.


The purpose of the Healthy Together Willmar initiative is to create a future where all members of the Willmar community have access to the resources and opportunities needed to achieve their best possible health. Knowing that community-based challenges require community-driven solutions, Blue Cross was committed to investing and doing things differently in Willmar by:

  • Building relationships to hear community perspective
  • Partnering to address barriers to health, advance health equity and make a healthy difference in people’s lives
  • Creating an initiative by and for the community
  • Investing in community-led solutions
  • Developing more equitable systems and approaches



  • Readiness to do health equity work
  • Willingness to step into uncomfortable situations
  • Community appetite to address racism and inequity
  • Existing infrastructure to build upon
  • Buy-in from community leadership
  • Skilled facilitators to navigate across difference and guide difficult conversations