By Tom Travis
The Greater Flint Health Coalition (GFHC) celebrated its newly renovated three-story headquarters in downtown Flint Monday with a ribbon cutting ceremony. The 12,000 sq. ft. facility is next to the northern end of Buckham Alley at 120 W. First St.
At a cost of $2 million, the renovation took more than a year and half. The work started a month before the COVID pandemic shut-down in February, 2020. After several months of construction pauses, the renovation wrapped up in December, 2020, and the GFHC moved from their former locale in the Mott Foundation building into the new space in March.
“This new facility in the heart of downtown Flint will allow for the Greater Flint Health coalition to provide more accessible health and wellness services and increased support systems to address the health needs of residents in the greater Flint community,” Kirk Smith, president and CEO of GFHC explained in a press release.
The renovation was made possible by Phil Hagerman, founder of Skypoint Ventures, who donated the building, which had been vacant for nearly 20 years. Funders and financing partners supporting the renovation and establishment of the new Health & Wellness District facility include the C.S. Mott Foundation, Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), the City of Flint Community Development Block Grant program, Michigan Health Endowment Fund, Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation, ELGA Credit Union, and mid-Michigan Health Consortium, according to a press release handed out at the ribbon cutting event.
The renovated building is part of the emerging downtown Health and Wellness District, funded by a $31.8 million grant in 2012 to the Uptown Reinvestment Corporation from the C.S. Mott Foundation. The developments, include the former Flint Journal facilities for the MSU Public Health building, establishing the new Farmers Market, demolishing the former Genesee Towers and creating an urban park space. The new GFHC headquarters was partially funded by that grant.
“The GFHC’s goal is to improve the health of residents by providing multiple things that everyone needs, making sure that people have a doctor, health coverage,” Smith told EVM at the ribbon cutting. “On the second floor of the new facility are community health workers and social workers, nurses, career advisors for job training, programs in health care. We help people navigate community resources like housing, food, transportation and education.”
Remnants of the past remain inside renovated building
The renovated headquarter building was originally constructed in 1929 as the Merchants & Mechanics Bank.
Long-covered by wallpaper in the decades -ong abandoned building reveal photographs and paintings depicting Flint’s rich Vehicle City history. Those lost pieces of art decorate the stairwells now.
The original bank vault remains and decorates a large common area.
How the Coalition serves the community
Established in 1996, the GFHC is a Flint-based non-profit organization and partnership between Genesee County hospitals, physicians, business, insurers, public health professionals, policymakers, government leaders, educators, UAW and labor unions, community organizations and the residents, according to a press release. The two-fold mission of the GFHC is to improve the health status of Genesee County residents and the quality and cost-effectiveness of the health care system in the community, the press release stated.
The GFHC website lists 18 programs offered to the community. They include programs focusing on improving physical activity and physician-patient relationships; hands-on community-based programs to teach families about preparing, cooking and eating healthy foods; assisting with health care coverage of children; the Flint ReCAST (Resiliency in Communities After Stress and Trauma) program intended to assist high-risk youth and families in Flint; and implementing violence prevention and community engagement programs. The GFHC also collects and assesses Genesee County data to help identify community health needs.
“What we try to do is connect these groups and work together to develop solutions to the community’s health problems that singular organizations just can’t solve on their own,” Smith said.
The GFHC has multiple streams of funding, including state and federal contracts and grants which provide for the $6 million annual budget. The new facility will house 44 mostly full-time employees. Smith said the organization plans eventually to add more jobs.
“The Greater Flint Health Coalition has been dedicated to helping everyone in the community be proactive about their health and happiness for nearly three decades,” said Michigan State Senate Minority Leader and GFHC Board Chair Jim Ananich.
“Our programs address the needs of real people facing real challenges, from the water crisis to the opioid epidemic to physical fitness and beyond,” Ananich said. “Today’s grand opening of our new facility means we have a new home base for carrying out this critical mission and a space to expand our thriving programs.”
Several other local and state dignitaries joined in the event, including Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley, and representatives from U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee’s office.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.