The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has granted $25 million to expand the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine’s public health presence in Flint. The grant will create an endowed fund to increase public health faculty, academic research and community health collaborations.

“Expanding MSU’s public health program in Flint is a great thing for the community, and it also will yield important lessons for our state and nation as we struggle with both emergent and chronic health challenges,” said Ridgway White, president and CEO of the Mott Foundation. “MSU’s work in Flint is a wonderful example of what can happen when scientists, residents and community advocates work together to improve health.”

The new grant to MSU will build upon Mott’s initial support for the college’s presence in Flint. Between 2011 and 2013, Mott granted $12 million to MSU for the college’s expansion and relocation of its public health program from East Lansing to Flint, as well as $7.7 million to the Foundation for the Uptown Reinvestment Corporation to support renovation of the former Flint Journal building to house the program.

“MSU has a mission to improve the lives of people through community-based research,” said President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. “Our successful collaboration with the people of Flint has allowed our scientists to create a new model for positive public health outcomes, and we are grateful for the continued support of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which will allow us to build on successes.”

“Being embedded in the Flint community allows Michigan State University public health faculty and researchers to understand the assets and needs of the community with the people of Flint on issues important to them,” said Wayne R. McCullough, PhD, Interim Director of the Division of Public Health and Director of the Master of Public Health Program. “This important and significant grant allows us to enhance the research and education mission in service to Flint, to port learning to other parts of the state, strengthens interventions with a community-participatory public health model, and maximizes impact that will ultimately improve the overall health in Flint.”

Since 2014, MSU’s Flint-based public health experts have implemented programs and research initiatives in the community and beyond. A crucial example was Mona Hanna-Attisha’s discovery in 2015 of elevated blood lead levels in Flint’s children tied to a switch in the city’s water source and improper treatment of the water. Since then, Hanna-Attisha has headed up work with the CDC’s Flint Lead Exposure Registry, successfully advocated for the inclusion of the National Fruit and Vegetable Pediatric Prescription program in the 2018 Farm Bill, and testified before the U.S. Congress to help inform public health legislation.

MSU’s experts also have worked with community partners to develop programs to mitigate chronic diseases, identify environmental health risks and examine the social factors that influence community health. This work includes Jennifer Johnson’s community-participatory mental health and substance use interventions for perinatal women and individuals involved in the criminal justice system. Debra Furr-Holden’s leadership and national advocacy have reduced COVID-19 health disparity in cases and deaths among African Americans throughout the pandemic. Todd Lucas and his team are identifying the causes of racial health disparities through preventive health behaviors such as colorectal cancer screening and understanding the barriers to COVID-19 antibody testing and vaccinations in Flint. 

“Our researchers have worked side-by-side with the Flint community to improve lives locally and in communities across the country,” said Aron Sousa, interim dean of the MSU College of Human Medicine. “Our work in Flint across the city’s water crisis, COVID-19, nutrition and mental health has become a national model. We are grateful to the Mott Foundation for recognizing this innovative public health opportunity and supporting its further growth. The $25 million grant is the single largest award in the College of Human Medicine’s history.”

“This partnership between the community, Michigan State University, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, gives real credibility and credence to the work, leading to strengthened public health efforts in Flint,” said E. Yvonne Lewis, founder and CEO of the National Center for African American Health Consciousness. “This grant represents a beacon of hope that will help elevate community-led solutions to the issues we face.”

Mott’s support of public health in Flint already has had a positive economic impact on the city. According to an MSU study for the period 2015-2020, Mott’s initial $12 million in grants to MSU and $7.7 million grant to the Foundation for the Uptown Reinvestment Corporation had a return of $93 million in economic output in Genesee County. The analysis also indicates that the work of the MSU Division of Public Health has resulted in 110 jobs over that five-year period. The latest grant to MSU is expected to add up to 200 new jobs.

The search for new faculty will be launched in the coming months. MSU, Mott and FURC are exploring options to expand the building to accommodate MSU’s anticipated growth.

January 26, 2022