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'Embrace diversity as an asset'

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Richard Devlin

A new Olmsted County initiative is aiming to create a foundation of support to overcome disparities in services throughout the county.

A draft of a "One Olmsted" resolution has been making the rounds among some volunteer county boards, with tentative plans to seek support from the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners early next month.

The proclamation stating "the time is now to embrace diversity as an asset" strives to reaffirm the county's commitment to equity and acknowledging "every facet of human difference." It's a new take on existing practices.

"We have a lot of policies that already address this," County Administrator Richard Devlin said, noting the resolution reasserts those policies.

However, Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden noted part of the drive for the One Olmsted resolution stems from the attack on the San Bernardino public health training event on Dec. 2, 2015. She said local county staff feared similar attacks in the wake of the event and other national tensions, but rather than taking a defensive posture, department heads sought another approach.


Community Services Director Paul Fleissner obtained a proclamation from a colleague in Fairfax, Va., and sought to transform it for Olmsted County.

"I really like where it evolved," he said, regarding changes that were made as the document circulated among county staff and boards, as well as the Diversity Council.

The resolution points to the county's dedication to health, social and racial equity, citing an importance to provide all residents with access to county services.

Public Health Director Pete Giesen noted his department already implements many aspects identified in the resolution, but his staff continues to work toward addressing disparities that exist.

"It's something that just part of our mission in our department," he said, noting other departments have been addressing equity issues as well.

Olmsted County Human Rights Commission Chairwoman Nora Dooley said that's important.

"Everybody needs to be healthy in a community, or we're all at risk," she said, pointing out disease can spread across societal boundaries once one group becomes ill.

Giesen said the impact will be felt throughout all county departments, noting the goal is to cover anyone who comes in contact with any Olmsted County services.


Fleissner said it provides a unique lens to look at how services are provided and will be used to build on what is being done and offer incentives to improve.

As the proposal has been reviewed by volunteer boards in the county, it's generated support with some voicing a desire to take it further.

"I would have loved to have seen some implementation procedure or some way of measuring," Human Rights Commission member Barry Skolnick said.

Giesen said an action plan would be ideal, but it's not ready yet. However, he noted the resolution could be used to leverage future efforts, if approved by county commissioners.

Community Services Advisory Board Chairman Jim Rustad noted the mere presence of the resolution likely will have an impact on county staff and the community.

"My hope is just by communicating it, it will get recognition and people will start adopting it," he said.

Having received a variety of suggested tweaks throughout the review process, the resolution is tentatively planned to be presented by chairs of the human rights commission and public health and community service advisory board during the April 4 county board meeting.


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