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March 26, 2024

MSU researchers create a new health equity evaluation tool for Genesee County and the city of Flint

Community-based organizations, nonprofits, policymakers and local residents will benefit from the first Health Equity Report Card, or HERC, for Genesee County and the city of Flint. The online tool helps people understand the overall landscape of community health by comparing 50 health-related indicators from 26 public sources. 


“There’s a big need for comprehensive data that’s useful and easy to understand, especially in public health,” said Heatherlun Uphold, assistant professor in the Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health and the Department of Translational Neuroscience in the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University. “Increasing access to health information is an important step to improving health equity so everyone can have the opportunity for optimal health.”


Data included in the report card is specific to Genesee County and the city of Flint. It can be used to inform grant proposals, provide direction for new initiatives and guide funders who want to reinvest in existing efforts or expand their initiatives to address areas where there are high rates of disparity.


“The report card is an essential resource to tackle the disparities that are ever-present in our community,” said Athena McKay, executive director of Flint Innovative Solutions. “It identifies cracks and craters of missing information for our Black and Brown residents. It is a tremendous tool for advocating for policy change, program design and resourcing community health impact.”


Information in the HERC is organized by location (Flint, Genesee County, Michigan and the United States) and then by race (Black and white). Each indicator is organized into six categories: health services and access, socioeconomic status, physical health, mental health, maternal and child health, and health outcomes.


“The social determinants of health contribute to the differences in the results shown in this report card,” Uphold explained. “This data shows results that are influenced by where people live, work, worship, play and age. We look at access to food, health care, education and more. These variables affect health outcomes and quality of life.”


“As a community provider, having easily digestible data that identifies measurable problems is paramount in strategic planning,” said Kristen Senters Young, director of Women’s Specialty and Prevention Services and the Flint, Saginaw and Port Huron Odyssey Houses. “Whereas we may not understand the intricacies behind the data, we do understand the difference between receiving a letter grade on a report card. I can easily spot and understand an F. There is also the added benefit of being able to cut and paste a narrative description of the problem into a grant application or presentation slide.”


“In a community where trust is lacking, good information about that community comes at a premium,” said HERC community partner, Patrick McNeal, director of the North Flint Neighborhood Action Council. “That is why I believe that the Health Equity Report Card is vital for our community. It removes the barriers to accessing good information in a time of misinformation and disinformation. It seeks to make it easy enough for a resident to understand while assisting organizations that deal with our area’s disparities by having quality data.”


The HERC also identifies areas where more publicly accessible data is needed. For example, the mental health category lists four indicators, but we know that more information is necessary to tell the full story of mental health needs in our community, Uphold added.


“The findings in the Health Equity Report Card help identify areas with high disparity and those in need of intervention, like homicides by firearm, diabetes and life expectancy,” she said. “We hope to help other communities create similar report cards that focus on their important issues.” 


By: Dalin Clark

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