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Detroit Can Be National Model for Collaboration on Healthy Communities

By Kristin Bull

The state of public health in Detroit is fragmented, expensive, lagging outcomes, and full of disparity. To rethink and transform it, experts say, will require collaboration, patience and persistence. That was the key conclusion of panelists during the discussion, “Can Detroit Transform America’s Health? The Context Is Decisive” on Thursday at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

“When I think about public health in Detroit, I think about it as a public health ecosystem,” said Joneigh Khaldun, the city of Detroit’s health officer and health department director. That ecosystem includes businesses, schools, government and philanthropy working together to leverage data and resources to work toward a solution, Khaldun said.

Khaldun joined Jessica Donze Black, the American Heart Association’s national vice president for community health; David Hefner, vice president for Health Affairs at Wayne State University (WSU); WSU President M. Roy Wilson; and Kimberlydawn Wisdom, senior vice president for community health and equity, and chief wellness and diversity officer for Henry Ford Health System. The discussion was hosted by WSU and was moderated by Loretta Bush, CEO of the Michigan Primary Care Association.

Panelists agreed that improving health outcomes in Detroit would improve outcomes in other parts of the state.

“When we think about public health in Detroit, a lot can be applied to rural areas,” Khaldun said.

Key Takeaways:

  • In Detroit, a teen female is 2.5 times more likely to get pregnant than teen females across the state. To reverse that trend, the city’s health department has brought together every provider of long-term, reversible contraception in the city and will soon publish a map of providers and launch a hotline for teens. The effort will also provide transportation to take teens to the clinics.
  • Improving public health outcomes in Detroit will take time and will require constant benchmarking of progress. “If we expect six months’ outcome, we aren’t going to see it,” Black said. “Ultimately, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we need to be in it for the long-run.”
  • Universities have a responsibility to lead public health efforts. During the discussion, Wilson called on Oakland University President Ora Pescovitz, who was in the audience, to collaborate in developing a school of public health for the region.
  • Most barriers to health are related to social determinants: housing instability, food insecurity, transportation and education. Those are also keys to improving health outcomes, and another reason why institutions must collaborate.
  • Another key barrier is innovation; institutions must identify funding resources and seek grants to improve health. Nonprofits often have a greater potential for funding when health systems write letters of support for a cause.

This article was written by Crain’s Content Studio as part of a collaborative partnership with the Detroit Regional Chamber for the 2018 Mackinac Policy Conference.