“We didn't have a forum like this where people got together around the table,” Brainerd says. “Some of the issues and challenges are bigger than legislative policy and bigger than only political action.” Among the challenges she's taken on have been education reform and health disparities. “Particularly organizations that are place-based, like healthcare … we have a special obligation,” she says.
Brainerd also set into motion the East Metro Mental Health Roundtable, a group of 25 community leaders who work to build awareness of mental health issues and draw up both short- and long-term practical responses. “We could see gaps in service, poor coordination across the community and the impact that stigma was having on people receiving care much later than was beneficial,” she says.
Among the roundtable's success have been the creation of a crisis intervention center and an initiative to ensure that those on medications for mental illness are able to get coverage regardless of need, Brainerd says. “It has been everybody doing their part,” she says. “We were the catalyst. The heavy lifting has been done by a whole team of people. Anybody who knows healthcare knows that individuals experiencing mental illness are still underserved.”
Another initiative that Brainerd spearheaded was the GiveMN.org website, which provides a way for people to donate to charitable organizations of all stripes in one place, which to date has taken in $50 million for more than 6,200 not-for-profits, including $13.4 million in one day alone, the annual Give to the Max Day.
The site has been particularly valuable in times of crisis such as the severe tornados that hit the Twin Cities in May 2011. “It's just a way to connect people to the giving interests that touch their hearts,” Brainerd says. “You can see the impact on nonprofits.”
Donna Zimmerman, senior vice president for government and community relations at HealthPartners, says that Brainerd lends credibility to every initiative she touches. “People want to work with her,” Zimmerman says. “What I hear over and over again, is, 'You're so lucky to have a CEO who really cares about this work and wants to get involved.' ” When it comes to tough issues such as mental health, she adds that Brainerd knows “they are not solved quickly, and they are never solved in working alone or in a silo. These issues are not HealthPartners to solve alone.”