Wayne State’s Community Health Worker Academy receives MDHHS grant to support expansion of Neighborhood Wellness Center initiative

Nathan McCaughtry, Ph.D., assistant dean in Wayne State’s College of Education, will lead the Neighborhood Wellness Center initiative funded by the Michigan Department for Health and Human Services.
Nathan McCaughtry, Ph.D., assistant dean in Wayne State’s College of Education, will lead the Neighborhood Wellness Center initiative funded by the Michigan Department for Health and Human Services.

DETROIT — Wayne State University is partnering with the Michigan Department for Health and Human Services (MDHHS) on an initiative to integrate community health worker-led programing into its existing 22 neighborhood wellness centers.

A five-month, $1,481,901 grant from MDHHS will provide financial resources for the Neighborhood Wellness Center initiative with the goal of supporting Wayne State University’s Community Health Worker Academy and its key partner, Everyday Life Consulting. The goal is to enhance workforce and social services provided by community health workers by launching consultations with community residents, conducting social determinants of health screenings, providing health education and healthy living resources, offering social service referral opportunities, and continuing follow-up visits with residents. This will aid in ensuring community members are able to access the supports needed to improve living conditions, prevent the most pressing chronic diseases, and advance health equity across Southeast Michigan, particularly in Detroit. The project will run from May 1 to Sept. 30, 2024.

The Community Health Worker Academy was launched in early 2021 to address the global shortage in the health care and public health workforce that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the help of a $2.7 million grant in 2022 from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and a $16.5 million center grant from National Institutes of Health, the Community Health Worker Academy has undergone rapid expansion and has gained statewide visibility for its collective work.

Nathan McCaughtry, Ph.D., assistant dean for the Division of Kinesiology, Health, and Sports Studies in Wayne State’s College of Education, director of the Center for Health and Community Impact, and director of the Community Health Worker Academy is leading the Neighborhood Wellness Center initiative.

“Based on all of the work that we’ve been doing since our launch with more than 100 community agencies who either employ community health workers or want to begin employing them, the MDHHS approached us about the expansion of an initiative that they started at the beginning of the pandemic, in which they launched 22 COVID testing sites, mostly in Southeast Michigan,” said McCaughtry. “As the pandemic proceeded, the centers evolved to include additional testing and diagnostic screening services for issues like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease as well as vaccination services for other conditions. They want to expand the services offered through these testing and diagnostic screening centers and transform them into much more comprehensive neighborhood wellness centers. It’s a multiphase development project, and phase two focuses on our integration of a collection of health and wellness services addressing residents’ social determinants of health led in large part by community health workers.”

Neighborhood wellness centers will address social determinants of health needs, such as living conditions, transportation, access to healthy foods and access to health care services.

“Neighborhood wellness centers are an important lifeline for health care needs in urban communities,” said Ezemenari Obasi, Ph.D., vice president for research at Wayne State University. “Community health workers continue to play a critical role in our neighborhoods, and by expanding their capabilities through this project with Dr. McCaughtry, we will help provide important resources that mitigate health challenges that disproportionately affect the city of Detroit.”

“A traditional medical model, meaning expecting residents to go to brick-and-mortar facilities when they are already sick or have advanced diseases, as a method of population health is failing, especially in underserved communities,” said McCaughtry. “That traditional medical model does not prevent chronic disease health disparities. Coupling traditional medicine with social determinants of health assistance is the answer to more effectively reduce health disparities in far more cost-effective ways. One of the universities’ primary missions is eliminating health disparities.”

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Julie O'Connor

Director, Research Communications
Phone: 313-577-8845
Email: julie.oconnor@wayne.edu