Berrien County, MI
Collected data on social cohesion, health provider trust, and neighborhood conditions to understand their impact on health inequities and to facilitate collective action.
Benton Harbor is a majority-Black community in Berrien County, Michigan, that continues to experience the effects of white flight and disinvestment that began during the 1960s and 1970s. Compared with St. Joseph, a majority-white community just across the river, Benton Harbor has a significantly lower average life expectancy and worse health outcomes that are tied, in part, to disparities in neighborhood conditions, including limited access to recreational environments, social connectedness, and human-centered infrastructure. Corewell Health South, a southwest Michigan health system, led a community-based participatory research project through their philanthropic foundation to address residents’ distrust of their own practice and other health care providers, and help build neighborhood social cohesion, alongside trusted community organizations including the Benton Harbor Community Development Corporation; Benton Heights Community Development Council; and Present Pillars, a Black fatherhood initiative.
Using a survey designed collaboratively with community members in previous projects, Corewell Health South surveyed residents across Berrien County, including in Benton Harbor, Benton Heights, and St. Joseph, to collect resident perspectives on aspects of community trust. The survey also addressed residents’ trust in the health system and measured how resident views varied across Berrien County. A total of 1,110 Berrien County residents responded to the survey.
In the survey, residents in Benton Harbor and Benton Heights identified the following aspects of community trust as needing improvement: safety and youth engagement, quality infrastructure, cleanliness, bringing the community together for social events, and generating pride in the neighborhood. Residents in Benton Harbor and Benton Heights noted in the survey that these aspects of community trust need to be improved in their neighborhoods.
Corewell Health South collaborated with community partners to plan initiatives that would be responsive to these survey findings and improve community trust. Present Pillars and the Benton Harbor Community Development Corporation developed a mini-grant initiative to fund neighborhood projects. The initiative will provide mini-grants of up to $500 for youth programs, community cleanups, social events, and other projects that address an aspect of community trust identified in the survey.
Survey findings and this mini-grant opportunity were shared with the community during a Facebook Live event. In addition, Corewell Health South collaborated with the Benton Heights Community Development Council to fund social activities in the Benton Heights community in partnership with the neighborhood Boys and Girls Club. Bringing the community together for social events was a key aspect of community trust that Benton Heights survey respondents identified as needing improvement.
The survey also asked residents about their trust in the health system. Residents answered that the following aspects of trust need improvement: health care staff and leader engagement with the community, and the health system listening to the community before taking action. Corewell Health South is working on sharing these findings internally and identifying ways to improve, including engaging the health system board about the findings from this project. Corewell Health South is also planning to share what they are learning with other health systems in Michigan