Flint, MI—The state has proposed millions in ongoing funding for COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites, including those in Flint, as part of its coronavirus response and efforts to address racial health disparities.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 2024 proposed budget includes providing $24 million in continued funding for 22 neighborhood health clinics and nine mobile health units across Michigan counties, according to a state press release on Feb. 27, 2023.
One of the mobile units is operated by the Genesee Community Health Center (GCHC), which offers primary care services in Genesee County.
Throughout the pandemic, GCHC’s Mobile Medical Unit has provided free COVID-19 testing and vaccinations as well as resources for basic needs like medical care and food assistance. Nurses, outreach workers and health coaches have all been a part of the unit’s team.
Jean Troop, GCHC’s executive director, said the Mobile Medical Unit has been receiving $200,000 annually in state funding for its coronavirus response, and the state’s commitment proposal for 2024 is critical to the medical unit’s work not only with COVID-19, but also with addressing broader health inequities in the community.
“I think it’s huge, I do, because we’re hitting those pockets that aren’t getting the care that they need or the supports that they need,” Troop said. “You’re building your reputation with the community itself as you’re going through the streets and they start to recognize you and then it’s not such a scary thing to come out maybe, [and ask] for some assistance.”
When it comes to COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on communities, the state’s Coronavirus Racial Disparities Task Force released a final report on Feb. 27 showing that coronavirus death rates among Black Michiganders have dramatically decreased from 2020 to 2022.
Genesee County has also made vast improvements reducing disparities in COVID deaths. In 2020, there were 276.55 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 people among the county’s Black population. For the white population, the number was 159.72 per 100,000 individuals, according to data provided by Alan Harris, a Geographic Information System analyst at Michigan State University.
By 2022, coronavirus death rates dropped to 112.62 per 100,000 people for the county’s Black population, and 107.52 per 100,000 people among white residents.
But Harris said patterns of disparities in health, such as the higher rates of cardiovascular conditions and depression in the Black population than the county’s white population “continued and amplified” during the pandemic.
“Building the groundwork to have these clinics to intervene in those disparities and try to improve that gap makes sense because you can model it and you can scale it to other health disparities,” Harris said.
Lynn Suftin, a spokesperson at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the state’s budget proposal includes goals to address people’s medical needs more holistically.
With respect to neighborhood health clinics in the state, which have primarily provided coronavirus testing and vaccinations, the state’s proposed budget aims to expand services offered at these clinics, Suftin said.
That would include non-COVID immunizations, screenings for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and kidney disease screenings, testing for HIV, hepatitis and lead, women’s health services and “social determinant needs assessments,” Suftin wrote in an email.
Among the neighborhood health clinics in the state are three in Flint, located at Bethel United Methodist Church, Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church and the Word of Life Christian Church.
Alesea Cheathams, a licensed practical nurse, has been working at at the neighborhood health clinic in Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church for roughly two years, and serves as the clinic’s site lead.
The government’s financial support for the clinic goes a long way for community members who are uninsured, Cheathams explained.
“It’s great for the people that can’t afford it, people that don’t have insurance to cover it, because I was one of those people,” she said. “I didn’t have insurance last year … I’m sure a lot of people [are] thankful to have funding from the government.”
Over time, she added that the clinic has seen less and less people come in, given the accessibility of at-home coronavirus tests, but the state’s proposal would bring more visits to the site and expand its health services for the community.