Flint community partners and three major Michigan university campuses today announced a new partnership to help address, through coordinated research efforts, the current and future status of residents and their health.

The new initiative — the Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center — brings together Flint’s Community Based Organization Partners (a coalition of community-based organizations), UM-Flint, the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus and Michigan State University.

The initiative will ensure community needs stay at the forefront in current and future research efforts in the Flint community.

“We believe this joint effort between the universities, community members and local health advocates will become a national model for coordination because it will allow stakeholders to share information, resources and brainpower,” says Chancellor Susan E. Borrego of UM-Flint.

The Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center’s core leadership team is, from left, Suzanne Selig of UM-Flint, Marc Zimmerman of U-M, E. Yvonne Lewis of Community Based Organization Partners, Debra Furr-Holden of MSU, Jennifer Johnson of MSU, Kent Kay of CBOP, Dr. Rebecca Cunningham of U-M, and Vicki Johnson-Lawrence of UM-Flint. (Photo courtesy of  Michigan State University)

The HFRCC will serve as a central coordinating center for each university and the community, inviting individual MSU, U-M and UM-Flint researchers, and community organizations to connect and partner through the center to achieve their goals.

Focuses will include the economic, environmental, behavioral and physical health of Flint residents as Flint recovers, rebuilds and faces future public health challenges due to the water crisis.

“Our goal is to work together to achieve the best outcomes for Flint residents,” says Kent Key, assistant executive director of the CBOP. “We want to avoid situations in which the community might feel torn in determining which university to partner with.”

For more information about the Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center, call 810-762-3172.

CBOP, U-M, UM-Flint and MSU researchers founded the center in direct response to the Flint community’s desire for leading academic institutions to collaborate and be inclusive of community voices.

“Michigan State has been a knowledge partner in Flint for a century now and this effort will further complement the Hurley/MSU Pediatric Public Health Initiative and the other health, education and community building efforts we’re involved in today,” says MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon.

“With our University of Michigan colleagues, we are pleased to offer Flint residents a new point of access to a tremendous reservoir of collective expertise and to give our own researchers additional channels to serve the community.”

Many researchers from each institution already work on research projects related to Flint, often in partnership with community organizations in the city and surrounding region.

Collaborating with the HFRCC, which is voluntary, allows researchers to learn more about each other’s work and plan activities that complement, rather than duplicate, one another’s efforts. The HFRCC will also make it easier for researchers and community organizations to share data sets and surveys of Flint residents.

“The University of Michigan is committed to the health and well being of the people of our communities. Together with our partners in Flint, the HFRCC unites three top campuses in a collaboration that is sustainable for the long road ahead,” says U-M President Mark Schlissel.

The HFRCC will facilitate community involvement from the initial phases of university-generated research ideas. In addition, the HFRCC will facilitate community-generated research, ensuring that issues identified by the community also move forward with the appropriate rigor.

The center will have a community ethics review board composed of members from CBOP. The review board will look at the intent and purpose of proposed research projects and endorse those they believe should move forward.

Researchers can use this endorsement to indicate the community’s need and commitment for their research when they seek funding from foundations or government agencies.

“This partnership will build on the established relationships the universities already have with the Flint community,” says E. Yvonne Lewis, a founding member of the CBOP. “It is exciting for the community to be viewed as an ally and equal partner in community research.”

The HFRCC has a core leadership team of two representatives from each of the three campuses and CBOP:

• CBOP — Kent Key, assistant executive director for CBOP and a health disparities researcher and community activist; and E. Yvonne Lewis, a founding member of the CBOP, who has more than 20 years of experience working with institutional and community partners in Flint.

• U-M’s Ann Arbor campus — Dr. Rebecca Cunningham, professor of emergency medicine at the Medical School and professor of health behavior and health education at the School of Public Health; and Marc Zimmerman, professor of health behavior and health education at SPH. Each brings to the HFRCC 20 years of experience working in the Flint community.

Cunningham leads multiple Flint-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health grants to assess the mental health needs of the community, often in partnership with Hurley Medical Center. Zimmerman directs the Prevention Research Center of Michigan and the CDC-funded Youth Violence Prevention Center, both based in Flint.

• U-M Flint — Suzanne Selig, professor and director of the Public Health and Health Sciences Program, has worked in the Flint community for more than 30 years; and Vicki Johnson-Lawrence, assistant professor and research program manager in the Public Health and Health Sciences Program, brings expertise in social epidemiology and biostatistics.

• MSU — Debra Furr-Holden, C.S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health based in Flint, epidemiologist and professor in the MSU Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the College of Human Medicine; and Jennifer Johnson, C.S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health based in Flint, clinical psychologist, and associate professor in the MSU Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology in the College of Human Medicine.

Furr-Holden and Johnson have extensive NIH funding histories, bringing more than $10 million in NIH funding to Flint in their first year.

The core leadership team members are each working with their respective community organizations and universities to obtain initial support for the HFRCC with expectations that future funding will come from federal grants and foundation resources.

The HFRCC will be housed in Flint at a location yet to be determined. It is expected that the center will grow in the coming months and will serve as a resource to additional community organizations and institutions.

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