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The Ingham Health Equity Council responds to disparities after COVID-19

October 13, 2023
Ingham County Health Department sign outside of their offices on Oct. 11, 2023.
Ingham County Health Department sign outside of their offices on Oct. 11, 2023. —
Photo by Donté Smith | The State News

As equality becomes an increasingly prominent topic in legislation, organizations like the Ingham County Health Department are striving to ensure that individuals from all backgrounds are provided with the tools to achieve success.

The Ingham County Health Department demonstrates its commitment to this fight through actions like the Health Equity Policy, a 2018 policy implemented by the former Health Officer, Linda Vail. This policy aims to mitigate implicit bias and ensure equal health accessibility for everyone.

The Ingham County Health Department has consistently been at the forefront of progress for health equity and social justice. For years, they have focused on ensuring all of the community is encompassed when looking at how to improve health, Vail said.

In response to the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Ingham County Health Department, in collaboration with the Capital Area Health Alliance, an organization dedicated to enhancing community health, established the Ingham-Health Equity Council.

“Its main goal is to reduce COVID-19 inequities in Ingham County,” Current Health Officer, Nike Shoyinka, said about the council. “It does this through identifying strategies to meet community needs and granting funds to community organizations to reduce and eliminate COVID-19 inequities.”

These inequalities are addressed by 10 mini-grants offered by the council with funding ranging from $6,000 to $16,000. The grants address critical health and social services in a variety of areas. From culturally relevant healthcare education and navigation to lactation services, Shoyinka said that they’re working to close the gap faced by the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities across the county.

Last year, the council took their first run at the mini-grants. With numerous applications, it brought forth difficult decisions, but ended up an incredible success, Shoyinka said. 

“It bridged that ability for someone to feel that safety and security of not knowing what comes next for some individuals,” Teri Looney, the Executive Director of Loaves and Fishes, said. “It bridged that feeling of support, the time to get better, and a space to come back to.”

Loaves and Fishes is an outreach ministry that provides housing, both short term and long, for individuals and families within the communities.

Many underserved organizations don't have the opportunities or means to receive grants, so having a grant that targets smaller community-partners creates a big impact for not only them, but the people they serve, Looney said. 

 For Loaves and Fishes, they didn’t have the money to combat the prominent issue of COVID-19. They couldn’t afford to offer any sort of relief. Receiving the Health Equity Council’s mini-grant gave the organization the means to provide aid.

Eastside Community Action Center, another 2022 mini-grant awardee, focuses on providing social, educational, and spiritual assistance to individuals who are considered vulnerable or at-risk.

Both Kristy Hagarty, the program specialist for ECAC, and Looney agree that the grant application process was one of the simplest applications they’ve encountered.

Shoyinka explained that the applications are assessed based on their grant strategy, ideas for addressing COVID-19-related disparities and the proposed budget.

With the money awarded to ECAC, Hagarty said they were able to develop a system of transportation that enables underprivileged community members to be driven to and from COVID-19 vaccination and booster visits. 

The Ingham Health Equity Council and mini-grants plan to continue to be crucial in supporting the disproportionately disadvantaged minority populations within the community. They help identify and overcome historical barriers, they provide resources and relief, and address social determinants of health, said Shoyinka.

“You can’t leave communities behind," Vail said. "You can’t leave people who are marginalized or experience systemic injustices behind…that’s why these mini-grants are so important." 

Applications for Ingham-Health Equity Council’s mini-grants for 2023 will be open until October 18th.

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