Gilchrist breaks down state investments aimed at closing racial health disparities ⋆

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, alongside members of the Michigan COVID-19 Racial Disparities Task Force and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), met in Detroit on Wednesday to break down the state’s continued efforts to reduce racial health disparities. 

Gilchrist joined DHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel and the Rev. Stephen Herrod of Bethel Baptist Church East for a tour of the church, which operates as a community health center to offer COVID-19 testing and referrals for other community health needs, including scheduling health care appointments. 

“It has been a joy to be a host site for this type of work that ensures that all people have access to health resources and other things that will be in place so they will thrive,” Herrod said. “I want to thank you all for allowing us to be a host site and serve as a vehicle and a channel to assure that all people have such access to these type of resources and services.”

Gilchrist and Hertel highlighted the success of the Michigan COVID-19 Racial Disparities Task Force, and applauded members for their work toward eradicating health disparities. 

“We don’t need to accept disparities; disparities have existed for a long time. We’ve lived with them, we have studied them, we understand many elements, the contributing factors, those that are, you know, based on what again, geography, ethnicity, race, identity, discrimination — all the things,” Gilchrist said. 

“When we decide to come together to solve a problem, because we know that a solution is available to us, we can make progress on it,” Gilchrist said. “It was not accidental that the state of Michigan was the first and only state to close its racial disparity when it came to COVID-19 deaths.”

The Michigan Covid-19 Racial Disparities Task Force was established in April 2020, bringing together a variety of leaders from government, academia, health care, economics, public health, epidemiology, education, the private sector and other disciplines to address racial health disparities in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

According to a report from the National Governors Association and the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, the task force “paved the way to address COVID-19 related health inequities in the state, resulting in the reduction of COVID-19 related cases and mortality among Black residents.”

In 2020, Black Michiganders saw COVID-19 death rates of 22.8 per 10,000 people, significantly above the national death rate of 15 per 10,000 people, according to a statement from the Executive Office of the Governor

As a result of the task force’s efforts, COVID-19 death rates for Black Michiganders dropped to 16.2 per 10,000 people in 2021 and 8.6 per 10,000 people in 2022. Nationwide, Black Americans’ COVID-19 death rates dropped from 15 per 10,000 people in 2020 to 14.8 per 10,000 people in 2021 and 6.1 per 10,000 people in 2022. 

The task force has also continued its work to improve health equity beyond the pandemic, including access to health insurance and telehealth. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the bipartisan $57.4 billion state general government budget for Fiscal Year 2024 on July 31. Included in that budget is $49.5 million specifically dedicated to eradicating health disparities, Gilchrist said. 

“So much of that investment was informed and directly recommended from the racial disparities task force that released its third report at the end of February this year,” Glichrist said. “I am very proud to say that we took those recommendations seriously.”

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel highlights items in the state general government budget for Fiscal Year 2024 that will help promote community health and address health disparities. | Kyle Davidson

COVID-19 testing at Bethel Baptist Church East on Aug. 9, 2023. | Kyle Davidson

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist highlights funding in the state general government budget for Fiscal Year 2024 aimed at addressing racial health care disparities on Aug. 9, 2023. | Kyle Davidson

A mobile health unit from Wayne Health parked outside Bethel Baptist Church East on Aug. 9, 2023. | Kyle Davidson

Rev. Stephen Herrod of Bethel Baptist Church East, Aug. 9, 2023. | Kyle Davidson

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist praises the Michigan COVID-19 Racial Disparities task force and its recommendations for the state general government budget for Fiscal Year 2024, Aug. 9, 2023. | Kyle Davidson


Included in those investments is $17 million in funding for grants to support community-based health clinics like the one at Bethel Baptist Church East, helping to transition 22 community-based COVID-19 testing sites into community health and wellness centers which can offer additional services, like blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol screenings, immunizations, and testing for COVID-19, testing for HIV and other sexual transmitted infections,  as well as social services and counseling.

The budget also includes $7 million to support mobile health clinics, which provide services like health screenings, COVID-19 testing and vaccination, and referral for other health care services to underrepresented communities.  

“Y’all realize that we like, literally invented mobile health units in Michigan,” Gilchrist said.

“Of course, Michigan would invent a way to do something in your car,” he said.

The budget also includes $16 million for local healthy community zones, which will help bring community leaders, members and resources together to address barriers for things like food, housing and other social factors that impact health, Gilchrist said. 

There is also $2.5 million dedicated to supporting individuals with sickle cell disease and their families through counseling, support groups and other forms of assistance.

The state has also committed an additional $23 million to addressing disparities in access to health care, Gilchrist said. 

“Part of the reason why we observe more negative health outcomes in poor communities and communities of color is because there’s like, literally not health care services physically present there. Mobile health units are an attempt to address that on some level. We also have a lot of other tools that we can use at our disposal so those $23 million will be put to work creatively to make that happen,” Gilchrist said.

With this $49.5 million in the budget, the state can be more creative in how it develops its public health infrastructure, Gilchrist said, citing mobile health units as one example of how the state is working to address community health needs. 

Hertel highlighted other funding areas which will contribute to closing health disparities, including funding for clean water infrastructure, addressing air quality in pollution in communities impacted by environmental injustice, providing free breakfast and lunch for public school students.

She also noted the $56.4 million in support for the state’s Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies initiative which provides support for pregnant women, new mothers and infants, as well as funding for the Double-Up Food Bucks program, which helps Michiganders on food assistance receive better access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Gilchrist said collaboration with members of the Legislature and partnerships with the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus will continue as they work to support public health efforts.

“This Legislature is focused on the same thing we’re focused on in terms of, again, positioning people to be healthy, to be safe and be successful. And we are excited about that partnership,” Gilchrist said.



authored by Kyle Davidson
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