Community Health Services of Michigan Medicine announced on Tuesday its commitment of $7.2 million to 26 projects in the Washtenaw County area that target the most pressing public health issues facing residents.

As mandated by the Affordable Care Act, tax-exempt hospitals must publish a Community Health Needs Assessment and implementation plan every 3 years. The jointly published assessment by the University and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital identified mental health, substance abuse, obesity, and pre-conceptual and perinatal health as Washtenaw County’s most urgent public health needs. The county topped the 2018 County Health rankings as the best in Michigan in terms of health factors like obesity, smoking and primary care provision, but disparities still fester when it comes to class and race. Washtenaw County came in 81st out of 83 Michigan counties, according to Jessie Marsall, the county health department’s medical director. 

“We also have a high percentage of households who are experiencing severe housing problems,” Marshall said in a county press release earlier this year. “Differences in the social, economic, and physical environment across Washtenaw County can help explain the differences in quality of life and health that we see among our residents.”

The Washtenaw County Opportunity Index shows, for example, a nine year difference in life expectancy between the 48104 zip code in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti’s 48198 zip code. Black infants are twice as likely to be born at a low birth weight as white babies in Washtenaw County, and six times more likely to grow up in poverty, according to Marshall. Hispanic children are also close to three times more likely than white children to grow up in poverty.

To address these needs, CHS solicited proposals in December 2017 from local nonprofit organizations and University-affiliated schools and programs. The work done by such organizations focused on alleviating poverty and improving housing, education and transportation in Washtenaw County. The award amounts were finalized over the summer.

The University allotted $750,000, its most significant contribution, to the School of Public Health toward “improving access to mental health and substance use services for sexual and gender minority adolescents and emerging adults,” and to the U-M Department of Psychiatry toward “Mom Power: A Washtenaw County Collaboration to Mitigate the Impact of Trauma on Infants, Young Children and Families,” according to the Michigan Medicine press release

CHS also committed $694,232 to Our House, a Washtenaw County nonprofit that helps youth transition from foster care to adulthood, as well as $682,934 to Food Gatherers, Michigan’s first food rescue program.

CHS dedicated the rest of its awards ranging from $5,000 to $594,454 to organizations that target mental health and substance abuse, obesity, pre-conceptual and perinatal health, and other community health needs. The commitments amount to $7,166,494.

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