Creating an Opportunity for Those “Whose Voices Have Never Been Heard”

Improving Population Health through the Livability Lab and the 100-Day Challenge

Michael Ramsey

What if community members from all walks of life — not just government, health or social service experts — could come together to identify barriers to livability (a community’s quality of life) and then test ways to remove those barriers?

The Health Project in Muskegon County — a community benefit ministry of Mercy Health — is leading a first-of-its-kind communitywide project to do just that. It consists of 100 days of experiments, complete with 19 Action Teams to conduct the experiments.

Known as the Livability Lab and 100-DayChallenge, they serve as a platform that gives “individuals living in Muskegon County a place at the table and time to speak — people whose voices have never been heard,” according to Michael Ramsey, program implementation coordinator, Community Health Innovation Region (CHIR), Health Project.

This project is funded through a grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

First, the Data

The first step began by surveying as many people as possible in Muskegon County about the barriers they face, known as the “social influencers of health,” which were identified through a collaboration between CHIR and the State of Michigan. The social influencers that were surveyed are the following: Health Care, Food, Employment & Income, Housing & Shelter, Utilities, Clothing & Household, Childcare, Eldercare and Personal & Environmental Safety.

Since November 2017, more than 145,000 surveys have been completed through the efforts of a dozen traditional and non-traditional community organizations, in addition to all the Mercy Health Physician Partners offices and the broader Mercy Health medical community.

The Livability Lab and the 100-Day Challenge Summit

On September 10, 2019, Mercy Health Muskegon, United Way of the Lakeshore, the CHIR and other organizations convened a 100-Day Challenge Summit to launch the Livability Lab.

“The 100-Day Challenge Summit brought together individuals from the community and groups from every sector of our county to mobilize around a common vision of livability,” said Ramsey. During the summit, 300 community members took the information from the surveys and coupled them with community, county and state data about social influencers of health to identify specific barriers.

The community members then formed 19 Action Teams that came up with creative solutions to address specific barriers. They were given 100 days to implement their plans. The teams will report their results to the group of 300 at a celebration on January 23, 2020.

Gary Allore

Mercy Health Muskegon President Gary Allore was also part of the Core Team behind the 100-Day Challenge. “We are proud to partner with the CHIR and the Livability Lab and 100-Day Challenge, which has energized people to engage in action planning that meets the needs of the community,” said Gary Allore, president, Mercy Health Muskegon. “Having just completed our Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), this process helped jump start our action planning and created exciting collaboration with people we may not have engaged in the past.”

Ongoing Efforts to Improve Livability

Hoping for many reports of success at the celebration, Ramsey added that “what is unique about this program is that teams are allowed to fail…because sometimes the best lessons come from failure. The work of these Action Teams will be ongoing: They will Define a problem, Design a solution, Do [implement the plan and measure the results] and Learn from their efforts and then start over.”

In January, the Action Teams will share their processes developed for the Livability Lab with the other teams. The final document from the 100-Day Challenge will be a “data playbook” based on key learnings from all 19 Action Teams, highlighting specific processes that can be replicated to address other social influencers of health.

For example, one team is working to create a Resilience Zone in Muskegon Heights by asking community members how to meet their needs. This work is being done through surveys and one-on-one meetings with a facilitator.

The result so far? South Muskegon Heights has already formed three new neighborhood associations so they can begin to identify and address their barriers and opportunities. Moving forward, these associations will have a voice and seat at the table, which is a first for those residents in Muskegon County.

Sharing Success

The work of the Action Teams and their results may go even further.

The Health Project and Mercy Health Muskegon plan to use the outcomes of the 100-Day Challenge to inform the work of the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) Board of Advisors. When appropriate, the CHNA Board of Advisors will support the work of Action Teams by incorporating their community action plans into their Community Health Improvement Plan.

There is no need to duplicate efforts and reinvent solutions.

Looking Forward

After the Livability Lab Celebration on January 23, 2020 at the Folkhert Community Hub in Muskegon, Ramsey will turn his focus to finding more funding for the Livability Lab, so this innovative, community-based effort that addresses livability may continue.

“In February 2020, funding will switch from CMS to the State of Michigan, but that funding will end in October 2020. We’ll look for sustainable funding, including more support from the State, so we may continue to move the needle when it comes to population health and livability,” said Ramsey.

Proud of the work of so many to improve the quality of life in Muskegon County, Ramsey is hopeful about the future.

“The Livability Lab speaks a lot about Mercy Health because we are committed to making real and relevant changes in our community, for our community, with our community.”

To get involved in the work of the Livability Lab or to learn more, please visit








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