Michigan IMPACT team with TA lead

Photo Credit: Dallas Rau, Michigan Health Improvement Alliance.

The Michigan Health Improvement Alliance, Central Michigan District Health Department, local manufacturer Vantage Plastics, and Vantage’s nonprofit outreach arm The WELL Outreach have partnered to improve local health and well-being. Their efforts, supported by de Beaumont’s IMPACT in Public Health program, focus on bridging the private sector and public health through an embedded community health worker at Vantage Plastics. The community health worker helps new employees access primary health care and aims to improve preventive care, decrease poverty, and increase employee retention.

Retaining employees was a concern for Vantage Plastics in Standish. Many new hires never reached the point when company health plan and other benefits kick in, two to three months after their start date. Vantage leaders had created a nonprofit outreach arm focused on wellness and giving back to the community, but they suspected company employees and their families needed even more assistance.

At the same time, the Central Michigan District Health Department (CMDHD) was looking to embed a community health worker within a large company to work one-on-one with employees, connecting them with local resources. Both the health department and Vantage leaders believed such a program could both increase employee retention and improve the health and well-being of entire families.

The effort launched this winter with support from de Beaumont and the Michigan Health Improvement Alliance. Their hypothesis already is proving to be true, as retention rates at Vantage have risen quickly since community health worker Lindsay Bechtel was brought on board. In February 2023, Vantage Plastics hired 40 employees. By April, retention had improved and the need for hiring had dropped, and fewer than 20 new employees joined the company.

“As much as this was a great opportunity to see if we could drive down retention issues at Vantage, it also was a great opportunity to say it’s worth investing in a health worker to connect back to the community,” said CMDHD Community Connections Supervisor Amelia Kasper, who oversees six counties.

Potential issues: Housing, transportation, health care

Vantage Plastics is a plastics thermoforming company that specializes in producing a wide variety of hard-to-make large and small parts for a range of companies and industries. Work is done at a 300,000-square-foot facility campus located in Standish, the Arenac County seat.

Employees struggle with issues such as reliable transportation, permanent housing, and intimate partner violence – all challenges that can make it difficult for people in the community to hold down their jobs at Vantage. Providing employees with resources to address these needs helps them stay in their jobs and improve their overall economic security, which in turn drives down turnover. Bechtel recently helped one new employee with budgeting.

“They talked about what it meant to have a paycheck,” Kasper said. “What it looks like to save. And not to just spend. In a few months, the employee was able to put down a payment for a vehicle.”

By late spring 2023, Bechtel had worked with 123 people to address social determinants of health and well-being — factors such as immunizations, food, health insurance, and housing.

“We’re tapping into existing programs in our communities,” Kasper said. “It’s a matter of how we better talk with each other, how we come together as a community instead of being different agencies serving our community in different ways.”

“Lindsay is connecting employees to existing programs and helping them learn how to fill out paperwork,” Kasper added. “She’s sharing information to teach them about existing resources.”

Vantage’s April metrics show 47% of new employees asked to be connected with resources, up 13% during the first quarter of 2023. So far, results are affirming the likelihood of notable improvements in retention, poverty, and other health indicators on a county level. Our experience through IMPACT shows that supporting the social needs of employees can also improve the bottom line for businesses, and we hope it will serve as a model for other employers in the region.

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