Health Equity Challenge: a catalyst for innovative solutions in Michigan

Efforts to address health disparities are essential for improving health outcomes for Michigan’s diverse population. Findings from a Detroit Metro Area Communities study underscore the importance of targeting barriers to care for people of color. The study found that 22% of Hispanic residents reported lacking insurance, compared to 11.2 % of white residents.1 Additionally, 25% of African American residents reported being in fair or poor health, while only 10.8% of white residents reported low levels of health. Poverty also affects minority populations disproportionally. Michigan’s African American and Black population experienced poverty at two times the rate of the state average in 2019, and the Arab American population experienced poverty at 1.89 times that of the state average.2

UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan recently received NCQA Health Equity Accreditation Plus from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). By leveraging data analysis and collaborating with community-based organizations (CBOs), this accreditation provides a comprehensive framework to address health disparities and empowers organizations with a strong foundation of health equity policies to elevate standards of equity. Key components include:

  • Data collection of community risk factors and social needs of members
  • Development of relationships with CBOs
  • Creation of consumer engagement opportunities
  • Identification of methods to improve social need referral processes

This framework guides initiatives such as the health plan’s Health Equity Challenge, an annual event facilitated in collaboration with Science Policy Network-Detroit (SciPol-Detroit).

Founded in 2020, SciPol-Detroit works to bring together community members, policymakers and science experts to improve quality of life and inform Detroit residents about local issues.3 The goal of the Health Equity Challenge is to cultivate innovative strategies aimed at reducing health disparities and improving physical and behavioral health outcomes.

After launching the 2nd annual challenge in October 2023, 15 project proposals were identified and evaluated. Ten proposals were selected as honorable mentions and received a $2,500 stipend for their efforts. Five proposals were selected as finalists and received a $5,000 stipend and a mentorship opportunity with UnitedHealthcare to develop a full project proposal. In March 2024, two Health Equity Champions were announced at a ceremony and were awarded an additional $5,000 stipend as well as a $50,000 grant to implement their project in collaboration with a community-based organization (CBO).

The two projects selected as champions of the 2024 Health Equity Challenge were “Lead safe homes: informing Michigan families on childhood universal lead testing” developed by Samantha Pickering and Mary Sue Schottenfels as well as the “Equitable aging in place for adults with chronic illness” project developed by Maddi Riemenschneider and Preethy Sarah Samuel. Both of these projects aim to improve health outcomes for communities where health disparities exist.

The “Lead safe homes” project was created with a universal lead testing ruleset in mind that is being established by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The ruleset will be in effect by October 2024, after which, the Environmental Council will work with CBOs in Grand Rapids, Benton Harbor, Northwest Michigan and Detroit to provide education about the importance of lead testing for children. An additional goal of this project is to identify underserved geographic regions that have a significant number of children impacted by lead poisoning. Research from the Journal of American Medical Association shows that outreach can increase health screening rates and thereby lead to improved health outcomes.4

The “Establishing aging in place” project was created in collaboration with Lori’s Hands, an organization which recruits college students to support older adults’ independence at home. Older adults participating in the program in turn share their life experiences with the students. This project will facilitate focus groups consisting of college students participating in Lori’s Hands with the goal of determining student impact, academic priorities and alignment of Lori’s Hands’ target goals. The project will additionally aim to increase and diversify student and client recruitment. According to the National Council on Aging, community engagement, social connections and access to essential services help older adults successfully live independently.5

The Health Equity Challenge highlights the commitment of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Michigan to improve health outcomes for Michiganders. Through this challenge, innovative solutions are conceptualized and implemented in the community. The Health Equity Challenge serves as a catalyst for driving meaningful change and fostering a healthier, more equitable future for Michigan communities. 

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