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April 26, 2016

Community, multi-university campus partnership to address public health challenges in Flint

Flint community partners and three major Michigan university campuses have announced a new partnership to help address, through coordinated research efforts, the current and future status of residents and their health.

The new initiative, the Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center, brings together Flint’s Community Based Organization Partners, or CBOP, Michigan State University, the University of Michigan Flint and the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. Working with CBOP, a coalition of community-based organizations, will ensure community needs stay at the forefront in current and future research efforts in the Flint community.

“This is about helping Flint recover and rebuild, no matter what color your team’s jersey is,” said Chancellor Susan E. Borrego of UM-Flint. “We believe this joint effort between the universities, community members and local health advocates will become a national model for coordination because it will allow stakeholders to share information, resources and brainpower.“

The HFRCC will serve as a central coordinating center for each university and the community, inviting individual researchers and community organizations to connect and partner through the center to achieve their goals. Focuses will include the economic, environmental, behavioral and physical health of Flint residents, as Flint recovers, rebuilds and faces future public health challenges due to the water crisis.

“Our goal is to work together to achieve the best outcomes for Flint residents,” said Kent Key, assistant executive director of CBOP. “We want to avoid situations in which the community might feel torn in determining which university to partner with.”

The center was founded in direct response to the Flint community’s desire for leading academic institutions to collaborate and be inclusive of community voices.

“Michigan State has been a knowledge partner in Flint for a century now, and this effort will further complement the Hurley/MSU Pediatric Public Health Initiative and the other health, education and community building efforts we’re involved in today,” says MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “With our University of Michigan colleagues, we are pleased to offer Flint residents a new point of access to a tremendous reservoir of collective expertise and to give our own researchers additional channels to serve the community."

Many researchers from each institution already work on projects related to Flint, often in partnership with community organizations in the city and surrounding region. Collaborating with the HFRCC, which is voluntary, allows researchers to learn more about each other’s work and plan activities that complement, rather than duplicate, one another’s efforts. The HFRCC will also make it easier for researchers and community organizations to share data sets and surveys of Flint residents.

“The University of Michigan is committed to the health and well-being of the people of our communities. Together with our partners in Flint, the HFRCC unites three top campuses in a collaboration that is sustainable for the long road ahead,” said U-M President Mark S. Schlissel.

The HFRCC will facilitate community involvement from the initial phases of university-generated research ideas. In addition, the HFRCC will facilitate community-generated research, ensuring that issues identified by the community are also moved forward with the appropriate rigor. It will have a community ethics review board composed of members from CBOP. The review board will look at the intent and purpose of proposed research projects and endorse those they believe should move forward.

Researchers can use this endorsement to indicate the community’s need and commitment for their research when they seek funding from foundations or government agencies.

“This partnership will build on the established relationships the universities already have with the Flint community,” says E. Yvonne Lewis, a founding member of the CBOP. “It is exciting for the community to be viewed as an ally and equal partner in community research.”

The core leadership team members are each working with their respective community organizations and universities to obtain initial support for the HFRCC with expectations that future funding will come from federal grants and foundation dollars.

The HFRCC will be housed in Flint at a location yet to be determined and is expected to grow in the coming months and serve as a resource to additional community organizations and institutions.

For more information about the Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center, please call (810) 762-3172.

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