The Role of Health Care in the Revitalization of Detroit

(photo via

(photo via

by Tom Schuelke, Challenge Detroit fellow

Hello Beaumont readers! Since this is my first actual post on the blog, I’d like to start by expressing my appreciation to Beaumont and all of the readers for allowing me to share my Challenge Detroit experience with you. Over the course of the next year, I hope to connect all of you to what I am learning about Detroit, what the program is accomplishing in Detroit and whatever else you would like to know about. The topics will range from light-hearted to heavy and I hope we can learn from each other with open, respectful dialogue. So, without further ado…

The Role of Health Care in the Revitalization of Detroit

For my first post, I was asked to write about my thoughts on the role of health care in the revitalization of Detroit. Having no idea where to start with such a grand question, I turned to a MBA’s best friend – statistics. I specifically was interested in the current state of health of the residents of Detroit. As you may have guessed, the results of my search didn’t look very good. According to statistics pulled from the Michigan Department of Community Health, if you live in the city of Detroit you are almost twice as likely to be hospitalized for a preventable condition as compared to the state as a whole; almost four times more likely in the case of asthma. Information from the “Healthy Michigan 2010” report reveals that 28% of the population living in Detroit has a disability, compared with 19% in the state as a whole.  Clearly the statistics paint a bleak picture for health in the city.

The Problem with Bad Health

What does this have to do with the revitalization of the city you ask? Other than the argument of health being a good thing in general, there is a well-documented (try here, here, or more generally, here) correlation between health and economic development. Indeed, this relationship holds true for Detroit. We just discussed how Detroit is rather health-poor. Economic indicators for the city follow suit. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that unemployment within the city is sitting at 18.8% – over double the statewide rate of 8.8%. Additionally, the US Census Bureau reports that the median household income of Detroit is $27,862, compared with $48,669 statewide.

As any statistician will tell you however, correlation does not imply causality. Even though health and economic development seem to go together, it is very hard to tell which comes first. In the case of Detroit, I decided to look up the availability of doctors with the thought that Detroiters were unhealthy due to a lack of access to health care. As it turns out, Detroit has a similar number of doctors per person (8.4 per 1000 people) and primary care physicians per person (1.85 per 1000 people) as Chicago (8.3 per 1000 people and 1.91 per 1000 people respectively). Additionally, there are 30 free/sliding scale clinics within five miles of the heart of the city. From this, it is reasonable to conclude that access to health care is not really the issue. It seems that economic stability is holding back health for the population of Detroit.

From the Motor City to the Medical City

If economic stability is what Detroit needs, why can’t that come from the health care industry? The medical industry is already the largest employer in the city according to The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. The DMC, Henry Ford and Blue Cross Blue Shield employ over 26,000 people within the city. In fact, a study performed by the Milken Institute revealed that Detroit had the 7th largest health care economy in the nation.

It is clear that health care already plays a big role in the city, but I think Detroit has the potential to take this one step further. Detroit should seek to become the Silicon Valley of the medical industry. Think about it–we have all the ingredients necessary to develop the city into the medical innovation center of the world. Consider:

  • Metro Detroit has four hospitals with national rankings on U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Hospitals” lists and 21 other hospitals with regional rankings – 4th most among all U.S. cities. All three Beaumont hospitals are ranked either nationally or regionally with Royal Oak taking 2nd in the state.
  • Detroit is home to the nation’s first satellite office of the US Patent & Trademark Office.
  • Detroit is the #12 city in the US for engineers/capita.
  • The University Research Corridor (comprised of the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and Michigan State University) spent $1.9 billion in research and development in 2010 making it the 3rd highest spending “innovation cluster” in the nation (as reported by the Detroit Regional Chamber).
  • Detroit’s mayor-elect, Mike Duggan, is a former hospital systeml CEO who is very familiar with how the medical industry works. He also heavily supports entrepreneurship as a means to rejuvenate the city (check out minute 50 of the speech he gave at Wayne State just a few days ago).

If we can find a way to include the medical schools in the area and pass some favorable tax incentives in the city for medical research, we could unlock the potential for astounding growth for the health care industry within the city of Detroit.

Please don’t mistake the statistics I presented above as a portrait of life in the city. While the stats definitely tell a sad story, they do not tell the whole story. Challenge Detroit has afforded me the opportunity to become acquainted with the city from downtown to midtown to the neighborhoods. There is amazing energy, resilience and pride within the residents of the city; both from those that have been here 60 days or 60 years. I am not going to claim that health care alone can return the city to its glory. Improvements in public safety and infrastructure and an ethical, honest government are needed to drive the city to a brighter future. But a booming health care industry can certainly provide a large boost.

How do you see health care participating in the revitalization of Detroit?

Follow the Beaumont Blog for more blogs by Tom and his year in the Challenge Detroit program and read his personal blog here.

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One thought on “The Role of Health Care in the Revitalization of Detroit

  1. Charlie says:

    A good diet and an active lifestyle are the best ways to avoid preventable diseases. Investment in public parks, community centers and education on healthy eating are the best ways a city can improve the health of its residents. Detroit in its bankruptcy of course does not have funds to spare.

    Perhaps though, becoming the “Medical City” (which I never knew was a possibility until reading this article) is the ingenuity and type of evolving Detroit can do to revitalize its economy, strengthen its finances and eventually, improve the health of its citizens. Good article and interesting points.

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