An all-important, every-five-years survey that gauges the Northland’s health and our most-pressing health needs has led to the distribution of tens of thousands of nutritious meals by the Duluth Area Family YMCA, the planning for a needed rural health clinic in International Falls, the opening of a community health center in Superior in response to a high number of Douglas County residents found to be without health insurance, alcohol-prevention work in Hibbing, and a new farmer’s market in Duluth’s hillside neighborhoods after it was determined there was little access to fresh food in the center of the city.

The list goes on of the many positive results stemming from the Bridge to Health Survey, considered a groundbreaking initiative in 1995 when first launched by what then was St. Mary's Hospital in Duluth.

The 2020 survey is in the mail now, or soon will be, to random households in Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, Pine, and St. Louis counties in Minnesota and in Douglas County in Wisconsin. Results compiled by Wilder Research are expected to be released in March.

Initiatives to improve public health in response to the survey and its findings can begin immediately after that, as has happened after past surveys. The continued success of the survey depends on our participation.

“The information that is learned through this survey has led to many positive changes being made, so it’s important and worthwhile for the households that are randomly selected to receive the survey (to) take the time to complete it,” Mary Rapps, survey co-chair and executive director of Generations Health Care Initiatives in Duluth, said in a statement this month. “All individual survey responses are kept confidential and the aggregate data is used by health organizations across our region to improve the health of area residents.”

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Survey questions this year will be on physical and mental health, nutrition, exercise, tobacco and alcohol use, dental care, insurance coverage, access to care, internet access, social connections and belonging, and the impacts of COVID-19.

“This survey has been an important tool for us for two decades now. We use it as guidance to help prioritize services and as rationale to start new services,” Amy Westbrook, public health division director for St. Louis County, said in an exclusive statement to the News Tribune Opinion page this week. “Right now, in the midst of a pandemic, it’s more important than ever for people to take a few minutes to answer the questions and mail it in. We’ve got 20 years of trend data from this survey already, so this will be a measure of how the pandemic has affected those trends, as well as potentially serving as a sort of starting point. When this survey is conducted again five years from now, we’ll be able to measure progress made from right now.”

More than 50 organizations in all are counting on Northlanders who receive the survey to thoughtfully, honestly, and thoroughly complete it and return it. Few would argue that all the good resulting from surveys past are needed like never before in the middle of tumultuous, public health emergency-riddled 2020.


To examine results from past Bridge to Health Surveys and for more information about the 2020 Bridge to Health Survey, go to: