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Oct. 18, 2023

Strength of Rural October 2023 Spotlight


Central Michigan District Health Department: Promoting Community Health Workers


In July 2022, Central Michigan District Health Department (CMDHD) began a new program, Community Connections, that links the public to community resources to address Social Drivers of Health (SDoH) needs for free. Community Health Workers (CHWs) complete 126 hours of coursework to become certified as trusted public health professionals who can perform outreach, education, support, and advocacy. CHWs coordinate linkage to resources that include housing, transportation, healthcare, insurance, food, education, immunizations, reproductive health, utilities, and more.


Community members are referred by a healthcare provider, community agency, or themselves to receive Community Connections assistance. They are matched with a CHW, who then assesses the individual or family needs and connects them to the resources to help. This program has been a success, helping over 725 individuals in CMDHD’s six counties of Arenac, Clare, Gladwin, Isabella, Osceola, and Roscommon.

In March 2023, with a grant from the de Beaumont Foundation, CMDHD began a partnership with the Michigan Health Improvement Alliance, Vantage Plastics, and its nonprofit outreach arm, The WELL Outreach, to improve local health and well-being in Arenac County. This collaboration focuses on coordinating efforts between private sector and public health entities through an embedded CHW at Vantage Plastics, a manufacturer in Standish, Michigan. The CHW helps new employees access primary health care and works to improve preventative care, decrease poverty, and increase employee retention.

Vantage Plastics had identified employee retention as a significant problem, as their turnover rate was over 100% in 2022. New employees are not enrolled in insurance until they complete 60 days; however, Medicaid ends for these new hires after 2 weeks, leaving them uninsured. These new employees self-identify an average of three SDoH needs, with the most prevalent being help with transportation, work attire, and health insurance.

CMDHD PhotoCMDHD’s embedded CHW at Vantage Plastics, Lindsay, gave an example of how this program helps employees: “Recently, I was able to help an employee who needed assistance with a utility bill. From that visit, he and his girlfriend are now up to date on their vaccines, and I helped them apply for assistance through DHS to purchase a more reliable and larger vehicle to fit their four children.”

This partnership has made a huge impact in the six months it has been in effect. Some highlights:

  • No one is turned away, no matter the insurance, job position/title, or demographic, and this is a visible offer to all employees to reduce stigma and increase access to care.
  • Over one-third of employees self-refer for help during the first few weeks of employment.
  • By June, 100% of employees participating in the program had remained employed.
  • By mid-August, over 111 employees had received help with almost 200 SDoH needs.

Additionally, this program and the data generated has led to many changes within Vantage Plastics. Their SDoH survey questions were updated to include those regarding how people best learn, which led the company to change its orientation process to a 2-week orientation that includes a training center. Other improvements include coordination of resources including gas cards, work attire, and childcare for employees, as well as more accessible materials for those of varying literacy levels. Bi- weekly meetings take place to evaluate employee retention and the impacts on employee health and safety. Monthly meetings occur with Vantage Plastics administration to discuss their employees’ SDoH needs, and a monthly newsletter is provided to all partners.

This partnership has expanded to include many state and local organizations to provide SDoH need assistance, including Castle Homes, Bay County Housing Commission, Omer City Court House, Great Start Collaboratives, Tri-Share, MDHHS, McKinney Vento Program, St. Vincent de Paul, Veterans Club of Arenac County, local churches, County Clerk’s Office, North Central Credit Union, Omer Library, Sterling Area Health Center, Ascension Hospital, Peer 260, and the Suicide Resource and Response Network.

The average monthly employee turnover rate at Vantage has dropped from 10.17% in 2022 to 7.33% in 2023. This represents $175,000 in savings to the company in six months. This initial data shows that utilizing CHWs can save private businesses money. This program shows that private-public partnerships can work and create healthier communities.