Community trust and cohesion

Berrien County, MI
United States

Present Pillars, Benton Harbor Community Development Corporation Benton Heights Community Development Council

Collecting 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 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 access to recreational environments, social connectedness, and human-centered infrastructure. Spectrum Health Lakeland (SHL) will lead a community-based participatory research project 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, is a Black fatherhood initiative. 

Using a survey designed collaboratively with community members in previous projects, SHL and its partners will survey residents across Berrien County, including in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, to understand how social trust and cohesion and trust in the health system vary across the county. In collaboration with community partners, project staff will also gather secondary data on homeownership rates and neighborhood diversity to incorporate into the analysis. SHL will hold a neighborhood town hall to engage residents in discussion about the results and design solutions that address the root causes of community distrust. 

The City of Benton Harbor is undertaking the master planning process through 2023, and SHL will share its results with the city to inform opportunities for neighborhood development toward health equity within the master plan. SHL will also share the findings and project products with its board members to support the implementation of community-driven interventions in health care practices. The community partners on this project will use the data to develop community-led advocacy solutions and catalyze collective local action.