The following article originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of the Minnesota Nursing Accent
It started 1,750 feet from where Jeanette Rupert grew up, and many of her family still lives today.
An MNA member and Registered Nurse, Jeanette had just gotten off the night shift on the morning of May 26, 2020, and was on her way to meet her brother to help a friend transition out of prison. When she arrived at her brother’s house, she learned that while she was taking care of patients at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, an event happened that would change her community and her life forever: the murder of George Floyd.
“I grew up on 38th Street, not far from the corner where he was killed,” she said. “The community that was my home was suddenly a warzone. Thousands of people started to gather there, trying to find answers. There was media everywhere and helicopters circling overhead. It was chaotic, surreal, and traumatic. I knew I needed to help however I could.”
Her family immediately got to work to serve their majority Latinx community, turning her brother’s backyard into a food shelf and handing out personal care items like toothpaste, deodorant, and menstrual products. They picked up supplies with their vans and made sure to have water on hand to hand out during the days of protesting.
Then a pop-up medical tent went up nearby. It only had one physician working nonstop with donated medical supplies. Jeanette knew her nursing skills would be an asset, so she began working day shifts at the hospital and volunteering at the tent at night. She wasn’t the only one inspired to help. A community member donated a bus to use with the tent, another donated cots and tarps to help keep people out of the sun.
“People needed an outlet,” Jeanette recalled. “If they couldn’t volunteer, they donated medical supplies or homemade facemasks. Everyone was pitching in to help the community.”
They were coming from all over the world, and the pop-up tent was there to help them, from elderly protestors needing serious medical assistance to newscasters that just needed a break and a drink of water.
As Juneteenth approached, it was clear that they would need more help to deal with a possible rise in unrest. Jeanette reached out to HealthPartners’ Park Nicollet Foundation to see if they could help. The Foundation stepped up. Everyone in the HealthPartners’ system showed up to lend a helping hand, including more medical professionals to volunteer and donated supplies.
“At one point, a young white man stopped by our tent after his cancer treatment at Methodist,” Jeanette said. “He felt called to witness what was happening, but he was weak and carrying oxygen. We were lucky that an oncology nurse was already volunteering, and someone had donated a wheelchair. She was able to help him experience the memorial and take everything in. It was wonderful to see such amazing contributions from my hospital.”
Unfortunately, as the protests and unrest began to calm as Fall set it, antagonists began to target the positive things that had been built up in the community. One morning, the volunteers found someone had used hot coals to burn down the tent and the supplies. The community rallied around the group. They rounded up more donations and built a more permanent med-shed structure to keep the good work going. After each setback, there was always a reason to come back the next day and try to make a difference.
“What really got me to come back day after day was one day I was at the tent, and this mother and her daughter came by for menstrual supplies and water,” Jeanette recalled. “The daughter was staring at me, so I crouched down to look at her. ‘Are you a doctor?’ she asked. At that moment, I realized I was the only one who looked like her. I don’t remember going to the doctor and seeing anyone who looked like me when I was a kid. If me being down there with a stethoscope around my neck opened up the mere possibility to be a medical professional, it was worth it.”
The group also began networking with Jeanette’s alma mater, Metro State University, to provide opportunities for nursing students to learn about bridging the health disparities in the community while building trust and their own cultural competency. The nurses put together community assessment projects focused on making impactful change. The students got to see for themselves the physical and mental health disparities in the community as people began to visit the tent to just talk about their fears and frustrations during the unrest.
As the medical and mental health work began to grow, Jeanette and the other volunteers realized that they needed a more permanent structure and place in the community. They decided to build an organization that would be able to continue to help people. They put together a nonprofit 501c3, 612 M*A*S*H (Minneapolis All Shall Heal) and moved into a building on 38th Street. The organization’s official mission is to work “to bridge the gaps between underserved communities and critical resources in order to promote healing through aligning services, providing education, and deploying accessible care.”
They began doing rounds throughout the neighborhood and home visits in the community with the student nurses. Everything from monitoring blood pressure and glucose to checking in on community members with respiratory problems when air quality was low and general health education.
“Systemic racism is still out there,” Jeanette said. “When I’m in the community, the first thing I do is tell them, ‘I’m so sorry that the system has failed you, I’m here to help. I’m here to bridge the gap.’”
As the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin nears, the group is hoping for peace but preparing for more turmoil. They are looking for donations and volunteers to help distribute supplies. In the long-term, they are preparing to open a clinic and need licensed medical professionals to donate their skills.
“What I’m doing is a drop in a big ocean. If everyone does their part, we can make waves.”
For more information on 612 M*A*S*H and to find out how you can help, visit http://612mash.org/