September Stakeholder’s Meeting focuses on action and advocacy opportunities for the WHI and its member organizations

At the September 2020 stakeholder’s meeting, WHI executives announced that Marianne Udow-Phillips will be retiring from her role as Executive Director of the Center for Health and Research Transformation (CHRT) at the end of the year. Marianne will continue to serve as a senior advisor on several CHRT projects, will teach at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, and will launch her own health policy and communications consulting firm. 

Terrisca Des Jardins, former chief operating officer for the Physician Organization of Michigan ACO, takes the helm at CHRT in October. At POM ACO, Des Jardins facilitated a comprehensive organizational overhaul and strategic planning process, launched the ACO’s learning health system and a nationally-recognized Medicare enrollee advisory committee, and helped achieve tens of millions of dollars in savings for the federal government, taxpayers, and the ACO, while significantly improving the quality of care for the ACO’s Medicare enrollees.

Des Jardins also served as director of the Southeast Michigan Beacon Community initiative from 2011 – 2013, where she led a series of pilots–funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services–to advance population health and diminish health and health care disparities by addressing the social determinants of health, incorporating community health workers into care teams, leveraging health information technologies, and more. Learn more about Terrisca’s background and interests.

Brent Williams, director of the Michigan Medicine Complex Care Management Program and a member of the WHI executive committee, spoke with stakeholders about new aspects of the WHI mission. In the past, he said, the WHI was neutral ground. But with the explicit inclusion of equity, and racial equity, in the WHI mission, and with a new focus on information dissemination to encourage policies and practices that improve health and health care for the county’s low-income, uninsured, and underinsured populations, the WHI “began an earnest discussion about what advocacy could mean for the WHI and the people that it serves.” 

We’re not a lobbying group, said Williams, but we are a messaging group. By balanced reporting on policy and practice challenges, as well as ways to address them, the WHI can advance its mission. The September stakeholder’s meeting focused on several opportunities for action and impact around food insecurity, affordable housing, and health insurance access.

In honor of hunger action month, Markell Miller, director of community food programs at Food Gatherers, introduced WHI stakeholders to the food bank’s Health Care and Food Bank Partnership Initiative. Markell highlighted the role food banks plan in the community, what Food Gatherers has been doing to respond to needs of community members during the COVID-19 pandemic, Food Bank partner agencies that offer meals and groceries to community members (including meal delivery, summer pantry programs in partnership with K-12 schools, neighborhood grocery initiatives at affordable housing sites, assisting residents with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) applications, and more).

Miller highlighted:

  • Free grocery distribution flyers that can be shared with residents across the county (flyers are available in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and (soon) Arabic);
  • An active Michigan Medicine Food Gatherers food drive;
  • The Washtenaw County Food Policy Council’s state representative candidate forum on September 30;
  • An ongoing evaluation to understand why residents who screened positive for food insecurity during primary care well visits refused referrals to food assistance; 
  • A hunger and health training program for future medical providers that focuses on the connections between food and health and community resources that can be shared with patients; and
  • Partnerships with community organizations to meet community food needs during the pandemic. 

In addition, Miller discussed the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the largest anti-hunger program in the U.S. reaching 40 million Americans. Miller described ways SNAP could be expanded to meet increased needs during the pandemic, and suggested language for those who wish to contact their senators and representatives to encourage them to endorse the program in the country’s fourth COVID relief package.

Aubrey Patino, Executive Director of Avalon Housing, discussed the City of Ann Arbor’s Affordable Housing Millage Ballot Initiative which seeks to create 1,500 units of affordable housing as well as ongoing resources for supportive housing services. If it passes, the millage–which is on the ballot this fall–would prioritize projects with permanent affordability commitments and would focus primarily on city-owned property to save money on land acquisition costs. 

To learn more about the affordable housing millage, which the Washtenaw Health Initiative is thinking of endorsing, visit Partners for Affordable Housing Ann Arbor. At the site, you can request a yard sign, endorse the millage, join a committee, or donate to the campaign. The 20-year millage, which would increase taxes for the average homeowner by $125 a year, would produce approximately $6.5 million dollars per year to help Ann Arbor achieve its goal of 2,800 affordable housing units by 2035.

“COVID-19 has really shown us that housing in health care,” said Patino, who worries about a potential and significant uptick in homelessness as a result of the economic fallout from COVID-19. “You can’t safely social distance in a shelter; you can’t practice good hygiene when you’re couch surfing; and we have a lot of essential workers in this community who are driving over an hour each way to get here and to work. One of the most important ways that we can really help reverse the history of racial segregation in the City of Ann Arbor is by allowing affordable housing developments in all of our neighborhoods.” 

The Washtenaw Health Initiative’s Medicaid and Marketplace Outreach and Enrollment (MMOE) Work Group described its plans to encourage county residents to apply for insurance through the Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Marketplace during this year’s six week open enrollment period, which begins on November 1. The group shared a number of studies estimating the loss of employer-based health insurance coverage during the pandemic to give a sense of the challenges ahead. 

MMOE goals include strengthening relationships with underserved, high-need populations that typically have higher rates of uninsurance; creating and distributing both paper and electronic flyers; recruiting and training student volunteers to assist with virtual outreach and enrollment activities; coordinating with enrollment assisters; and working with partner organizations to promote enrollment.  

Additionally, the group discussed the new Community Ambassador positions on the Washtenaw Health Initiative Steering Committee.