New Health Equity Project aims to significantly reduce health disparities for vulnerable residents in five Michigan counties

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has pledged to provide a $9 million Medicaid match to launch a new Health Equity Project in five Michigan counties.

The Health Equity Project aims to help these counties reduce health disparities associated with pressing social needs such as housing instability, food insecurity, transportation, health system complexity, and other socioeconomic factors by:

  • supporting efforts to connect people from historically disadvantaged populations to needed social services,
  • sharing data between relevant health and social service providers to facilitate improved care,
  • providing population-based data and informatics to analysts, stakeholders, and policymakers, and
  • better engaging with, and reflecting on the views of, community members with lived experience.

Core partners in the Health Equity Project include:

  • the Center for Health and Research Transformation (CHRT), a nonprofit health research and policy center at the University of Michigan, which will provide backbone support to the participating regional health collaboratives;
  • the Michigan Data Collaborative (MDC), a data collection, aggregation, and reporting organization at the University of Michigan, which will collect data from a variety of sources and deliver population-based reports;
  • the Michigan Health Information Network (MiHIN), a nonprofit collaborative that securely stores patient health information and transmits relevant patient data to legally authorized health care providers; and
  • the Michigan Social Health Innovations to Eliminate Disparities (MSHIELD) Collaborative Quality Improvement (CQI) initiative at Michigan Medicine, supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, which will engage provider organizations around the state and seek to identify and promote processes that lead to improved and more equitable health care outcomes.

“We all want the same thing,” said CQI Portfolio Director Michael Englesbe, MD, ”to provide better care for Michigan’s most vulnerable residents.” Englesbe is a professor of surgery at Michigan Medicine, U-M’s Academic Medical Center.

Terrisca Des Jardins, executive director of CHRT, is delighted to be part of this important equity work.

“Alongside our local, regional, and state partners, we will be pursuing deeper connections, collaboration, and information sharing between health and social service organizations,” said Des Jardins.

“Our aim is to provide a more holistic approach, and better coordination of needed services,” says Des Jardins, “to ultimately advance health equity for historically disadvantaged populations.”

“Data that is enhanced with performance measurements and delivered through population health reports provides a critical feedback loop that enables health and social service agencies to achieve significant improvements,” said Myron Hepner, director of the Michigan Data Collaborative.

Tim Pletcher, executive director of the Michigan Health Information Network (MiHIN) Shared Services, says the organization is pleased “to support the data and interoperability infrastructure for the health equity initiative and to ensure that the data is accessible to those who care for participating patients.”

“This project addresses an important gap in patient care between the great work of community-based organizations and health systems across the state,” said John Scott, MD, MPH, co-director of MSHIELD.

“Using data and building collaborative partnerships will ensure that everyone has the best chance of optimal health outcomes” says MSHIELD co-director Renuka Tipirneni, MD, MSc; both Tipirneni and Scott are U-M Medical School faculty and members of the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

“Addressing underserved populations is an incredibly important priority to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan,” said Amy McKenzie, MD, MBA, vice president of clinical partnerships and associate chief medical officer. “MSHIELD will be instrumental in our work to identify and eliminate inequitable health outcomes.”

The Center for Health and Research Transformation (CHRT) will provide backbone support to the local work in Washtenaw and Livingston counties, and will also initiate a multi-region learning community to identify ways the participating Michigan counties can work together to accelerate progress.

CHRT will also provide administrative support to the four participating regions across Michigan:

  • the Genesee Community Health Access Program (G-CHAP), administered by the Greater Flint Health Coalition;
  • the Jackson Care Hub, administered by the Jackson Collaborative Network;
  • the MI Community Care (MiCC) program in Washtenaw and Livingston Counties, administered by CHRT on behalf of the Washtenaw Health Initiative; and
  • A community integrated health network, coordinated by Health Net of West Michigan, with multiple community partners in Kent County.

“This project improves connections among community-based organizations so that they can work together better to serve their shared clients,” said Nancy Baum, CHRT’s director of health policy.

“When communities support this type of coalition work,” she says, “the relationships are then already in place when it is necessary to distribute resources in a pandemic or address other complex community health and human service challenges.”

“Evidence shows that we can address inequities through partnerships between health care providers and community-based social service organizations,” said Kirk Smith, president and CEO of the Greater Flint Health Coalition.

Maureen Kirkwood, executive director of Health Net of West Michigan, says the funding will allow Kent County’s community integrated health network to move new work forward.

“The partnership with other communities in Michigan will help us learn from each other,” Kirkwood says, “and provide a streamlined and equitable way to assist our residents as they work to access needed services.”

“This Health Equity Project is building upon community-led efforts to improve system design and capacity to address root causes and drivers of health disparities,” said Amy Schultz, MD, of Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson.

“The allocated funds will facilitate the use of key learnings from pioneer communities involved in this work,” says Schultz, “to scale and spread these innovative care models.”