Flint, MI—Jim Ananich worked in the Michigan Legislature for more than a decade, and in many ways, taking helm of the Greater Flint Health Coalition as its CEO and president feels like a homecoming for the former state senator.
“I grew up in Flint,” Ananich said. “What I mean by that is, I know what people are going through. This isn’t some academic experiment. These are my friends.”
Throughout his career, whether as a teacher, a Flint City council member or a state legislator, creating a healthier community in Flint with access to things like housing, jobs, education and health care has helped guide his work, Ananich explained. That extends to his new role at the Greater Flint Health Coalition (GFHC).
“I don’t want to think I should have to move out of Flint so my kid has opportunities that kids in Grand Blanc, Clarkston and other places do,” he said, adding that “we should have the same opportunities. My guiding principle is: how do we get that?”
Previously, Ananich was the senate minority leader, and he began his role at GFHC in January 2023 after reaching his term limit in office. At GFHC, the core mission is addressing the social determinants of health, or barriers to healthy living, he said.
The nonprofit’s efforts include promoting access to medical care, encouraging health and wellness, addressing substance abuse and mental health, as well as supporting the local healthcare workforce in Flint and Genesee County.
“If you can’t get to work, or you can’t get your kid to a doctor’s appointment or can’t find a doctor and they help [with] that,” Ananich said of his colleagues, “that makes an immense positive impact in that person’s life that day. Here, every day I leave, I know we did something.”
Looking ahead, Ananich is aiming to expand the GFHC’s existing programs and grow the coalition’s public presence, he noted.
“Helping them get the resources they need, helping them get connections, that’s the strength I have,” Ananich said. “I know a lot of people. I’ve tried to keep good relations with people on both sides of the aisle—business, labor, everywhere—so that if there’s a value in making a connection to somebody, I’ll be able to do that.”
Building those connections is one of the main lessons learned from serving in the state legislature, he said. Ananich was a state representative in the House from 2011 to 2013, and served in the Senate beginning 2013 until 2022. But Democrats lost majority in the House and had a superminority in the Senate, with a Republican Governor taking office following the 2010 elections.
So, Ananich, himself a Democrat, said he had to find ways to reach across the aisle to get things done.
“I wanted to be effective for my community, both Flint and everywhere else I represented,” Ananich said. “I had to be willing to work with basically anybody, which is not most people’s natural inclination.”
From a young age, Ananich said he always had the desire to get into public service. Prior to his time in the state legislature, Ananich served in the city council representing Flint’s 7th ward, including the neighborhood of East Village where he grew up.
Over the course of four years as a council member, Ananich said he learned about the range of health problems that residents face and the ways in which people’s living environments impact their health.
“I was made aware of a lot of the problems, chronic health issues, the aging housing stock and what issues can come with that, whether it’s asbestos or lead paint,” he said. “Obviously, water—that wasn’t when I was in city council—became an issue later.”
Ananich also taught at Carman-Ainsworth Community Schools district, as well as at the now-shuttered Johnson Accelerated Academics Academy Middle School and Flint Northern High School.
The issues he saw as a teacher and a council member helped frame his approach later on in the state legislature, Ananich explained. Those issues spurred his focus on things like improving access to affordable health care and healthy foods for students as well as ensuring paid family leave.
Now, in GFHC’s top spot, Ananich said he’s been working on helping launch a pilot project to provide pregnant mothers a one-time prenatal allowance and families with infants a monthly payment for a year. The project, called “Rx Kids,” is being led by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Michigan State University and the MSU-Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative.
Getting the project up and running is one of Ananich’s key focuses currently. It’s about proving that economic stability and “taking that stressor of having to figure out how to pay your bills” can improve health outcomes of babies and families, he said.
Another focus is expanding GFHC’s Flint Healthcare Employment Opportunities Program, an effort in developing the healthcare workforce for Flint and Genesee County. Part of that vision is to offer housing options and the potential of owning a home for trainees in the future, Ananich explained.
“If you do the housing piece, you’re stabilizing the neighborhood, you’re reaching equity when it comes to the people that are getting homeownership,” he said.
While Ananich, who self-described as “unabashedly a Flint kid,” said he’d loved his time in the legislature in Lansing, he added that it’s good to be back to working in his hometown.
“I’ve always wanted to come home,” he said.