A group of dedicated volunteers at Maple Grove Hospital haven’t let the pandemic stop them from spreading joy to new families. The Knitting Grandmas and Friends of Maple Grove Hospital have been knitting hats for newborns at the hospital for years.

Earlier this year, the groups were given the Trailblazer Award from Blue Cross of Minnesota. The award honors and showcases innovation in healthcare.

Over the years, the Knitting Grandmas and Friends of Maple Grove Hospital have made over 45,000 hats and then donated those hats to the babies born at Maple Grove Hospital. They have been doing this since the hospital opened in 2009.

While COVID-19 has stopped the Knitting Grandmas from meeting in-person to knit, the group is still working on its mission to provide a one-of-a-kind hand-knit hat to each newborn.

Jennifer Nelson, manager of volunteer services at Maple Grove Hospital, said the group started 10 years ago with three knitters. “They thought they would need to make 30 hats per month,” she said. “They quickly realized that they would need many more knitters to keep up with the (now) 400-plus babies born every month.  Currently the group has 65 dedicated knitters who make roughly 400 hats per month.”

Nelson added, “Having these hats available has continued that happy celebration of new babies here at the hospital. Truly, they are skilled artisans and we are so fortunate to have them as part of our team.”

Scott Keefer, vice president of public affairs with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, said that grassroots community initiatives are incredibly powerful in driving health care innovation. “We created the Trailblazer program because so many of these stories deserve a broader spotlight,” he said.

He added the Trailblazer honor is designed to shine a spotlight on what’s working to move health forward in the communities. “By highlighting collaboration and innovation, there’s a tremendous opportunity for effective programming to ‘take root’ elsewhere in the state,” he said.

There are several ways Blue Cross discovers candidates for the Trailblazer award. The most common is a nomination from one of the associates.

“In this case, one of our Blue Cross Medicare members reached out during the early months of the pandemic to share how COVID-19 had impacted their group,” Keefer said. “The committee was impressed with their dedication to community and their collaboration with Maple Grove Hospital to adjust their processes during the pandemic.”

The Trailblazer Tour started in 2016 and Blue Cross has recognized 34 organizations across Minnesota working to improve health in their communities. Some are large-scale, multi-year initiatives, while others are more specific initiatives to address a community need.

The award has special meaning for the group. According to Nelson, they have been informally recognized through local media stories and news outlets but never formally with an award such as this.

“As a leader of volunteers, I appreciate the award for recognizing the many different skills and people it takes to realize our vision of ‘delivering healthcare as it ought to be,’” Nelson said. “For the knitters, I know this is a much-needed pat on the back for the many hours and years they have dedicated to ensuring every baby goes home with a unique hat.”

Trailblazer stories can be found online at trailblazer.bluecrossmn.com.

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