Opening Keynote: Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Brooke Cunningham discusses state health policy in 2024


Alex Nelson, Hannah Saunders


Brooke Cunningham, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, was the Opening Keynote at the 2023 Minnesota State of Reform Health Policy Conference, where she provided updates on key initiatives that are underway at the state’s health agency and offered her perspective on some of the most high-interest topics in state health policy.

Cunningham talked about last year’s budget surplus of over $17.5 billion and the financial challenges the state has recently faced. She said about three to five percent of the budget was directed towards public health in last year’s budget, although many challenges can be averted through a higher investment in public health. 

She noted the importance of data disaggregation to reflect the diversity of Minnesota. 

Cunningham noted how different communities have different stories and backgrounds that create health risks and health protective factors. She said Minnesota generally places in the top five for healthcare quality, but that there is a negative side. 

“We also come up high in disparities and racial disparities, specifically, and honestly I am really tired of saying we have some of the best healthcare in the country with some of the worst disparities—like holding onto both of those things,” Cunningham said. 

She cited the Equitable Care Task Force, which is designed to bring together stakeholders from both sides to focus on Minnesotans who are disproportionately impacted by health inequities. She said she is exhausted of talking about trainings, but highlighted their importance.

“Implicit bias trainings are a good start, but they are the least that a healthcare system can do, or [that] a healthcare community can do to enact change to address inequities. We need healthcare systems to be at the table thinking about the policies,” Cunningham said. 

She brought up how there are unspent COVID-19 dollars that she hopes to get reallocated due to the uncertainty associated with the budget surplus this year. She said one thing about the current administration that she finds helpful is seeing a visible need across healthcare sectors and finding ways for agencies to come together and collaborate. 

“We all want to promote the health of Minnesotans,” Cunningham said. 

Cunningham said that state and local partners are collaborating to ensure they address the foundational capabilities of public health, like flexibility for local public health groups to implement activities in ways that make sense for their residents. 

Investments in the education system are high priority, particularly when it comes to replacing older workforce generations, and incentive and employee wellness programs are a net positive.

Leave a Comment