New health facility addressing COVID-19 disparities in Benton Harbor

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Spectrum Health Lakeland is addressing COVID-19 disparities in Benton Harbor and bringing residents better access to care should they come in contact with the virus.

The state of Michigan created a Coronavirus Racial Disparities Task Force to identify communities where resources were lacking so they could divert funds through the CARES Act to help, and one of those cities was Benton Harbor.

“The intent of the funding is to serve people who are facing significant challenges now,” said Lynn Todman, PhD, Vice-President of Health Equity at Spectrum Health Lakeland.

Personal protective equipment, mental health services, legal support and flu vaccines are all being offered at the Center for Better Health, Lakeland’s new facility on Main Street in Benton Harbor.

“The collateral consequences of COVID-19 were higher here,” said Todman. “People suffering from job loss, food insecurity.”

Residents can also easily access drive-thru COVID-19 testing thanks to a new site at the high school provided by InterCare.

"We were looking at where we could do it that would be closer to a residential area; COVID-19 has affected everyone but there has been a disproportion of cases in our minority communities,” said Velma Hendershott, CEO of InterCare Community Health Network.

While this better equips Benton Harbor residents in slowing the spread, the Berrien County Health Department is urging individuals to keep doing their part as the county continues to see an upward trend in cases.

“We don’t think twice about hanging out with our friends on the weekends, going out to eat or going over to grandma’s house but we know that every time we’re getting together with family and friends there is the possibility that someone has the virus there,” said Gillian Conrad, MPH, Communications Manager for the Berrien County Health Department.

And if things don’t get better - to not rule out the possibility of increased restrictions from the state.

“Knowing that we’re seeing upward trends without any signs of slowing down and seeing some neighboring states taking actions such as closing indoor dining, that could be something that happens in Michigan,” said Conrad.

As the county continues to break records with its one-day total of cases, that has caused delays in their contract tracing efforts, so they urge anyone exposed to take quarantining seriously as they wait for a call from the health department,

“I know that it’s frustrating for people because they expect an immediate phone call after testing positive with further instructions, so we encourage people to talk with their doctors if they can, but if you have a positive result or known exposer please go home, start that quarantine immediately,” said Conrad.

Services at the Center for Better Health are free and no insurance is needed.

Spectrum Health Lakeland is also offering some transportation services to get people to the clinic.

More information on the Center for Better Health and COVID-19 testing site at Benton Harbor High School can be found here.

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