COVID-19 Update: Flint Becoming Health Care Startup Epicenter, Priority Health and Total Health Care Saving Members Money, U-M Approves Budget Shaped by Pandemic, and More

Here is a roundup of the latest news concerning the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to announcements from local, state, and federal governments, as well as international channels. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.
map of Michigan coronavirus cases
Courtesy of Bridge, as of June 29

Here is a roundup of the latest news concerning the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to announcements from local, state, and federal governments, as well as international channels. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.

Flint Becoming Health Care Startup Epicenter
Flint is becoming an epicenter for health care innovation thanks to the work of XLerateHealth (XLH), a national health care startup accelerator.

XLH today announced the selection of six startup companies to join its second annual Flint Cohort. The companies will participate in a 12-week intensive bootcamp, working with a team of coaches and mentors to support the successful commercialization of their business. The program is funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and 100K Ideas.

XLH opened its Michigan location in the Ferris Wheel co-working facility in downtown Flint in January 2019 and supported six startups in its inaugural bootcamp program.

“XLH is committed to the revitalization and growth of Flint and to the goal of attracting investment capital to innovative, emerging health care companies in this region,” says Jackie Willmot, co-founder and CEO of XLH. “Two new affiliated programs were introduced this year in an effort to identify and provide early-stage coaching to Flint researchers, clinicians, inventors, and entrepreneurs who are interested in starting a business but need support to move their ideas forward.”

The 2020 XLH Flint cohort kicks off its bootcamp program on Wednesday, July 8, and will culminate in a virtual Demo Day pitch to investors, health care ecosystem partners, and the startup community on Sept. 16. The 2020 bootcamp will be fully virtual to adapt to COVID-19 precautions. Several Michigan venture capital firms will be participating in some aspect of the program including: SkyPoint Ventures, Michigan Biomedical Venture Fund, Northern Michigan Angels, and ID Ventures. XLH also includes support from local and regional health care organizations and hospital systems, including The University of Michigan-Flint, Hurley Medical Center, and MidMichigan Health.

The startup companies selected for the XLH 2020 Flint Cohort include:

  • 2innovate of Metamora, which specializes in the creation of innovative medical devices, including PeriTect and Windsor Gait Assist. Their latest product, Windsor Gait Assist, is the first-ever cost-effective traveling “seat belt” for the elderly and disabled that reduces the risk of serious injuries from falls on stairs and level surfaces in hospital and home settings.
  • Bell Tech Communications of Flint, which aims to enhance communications between the hearing and deaf communities by translating native hearing and visual sign language models into real-time conversations, including voice and text message, through assistive technology tools. This will optimize day-to-day activities for the deaf community without the difficulties and cost of hiring an interpreter.
  • Crosby Innovations of Detroit has developed a hand-held portable device that utilizes ultraviolet light (UVC) technology to sanitize/disinfect the skin to eradicate viruses (including COVID-19) and bacteria. Developed by an ER physician, the technology is safe, effective, and easy to use.
  • HealthOpX of East Lansing is a health care software company that helps English as a second language patients, refugees, and underserved communities access complete health care. The company’s Natural Language Processing technology supports neglected patient populations by removing language barriers and thereby overcoming social and economic factors that inhibit understanding complicated hospital discharge instructions and other clinical guidance critical to positive patient outcomes.
  • Insubiq of Newtown, Pa. offers an AI-powered wearable technology that detects digital biomarkers (such as cough) to aid in the early detection of disease such as COVID-19 and Parkinson’s disease.
  • SafetyCo of Detroit offers a hospital-developed technology that decreases the risk of patient injury while therapists perform physical therapy at the bedside. Their device, SafetySit, decreases the need for multiple caregivers at the bedside and increases the safety for both the patient and therapist.

Priority Health and Total Health Care Save Members Money Offering $0 Cost Share Treatment for COVID-19 Through 2020
Grand Rapids-based Priority Health, the second-largest health care system in Michigan, and Detroit’s Total Health Care announced they will continue to waive all copays, deductibles, and coinsurance for treatment and medically necessary testing of COVID-19 as well as expand its $0 cost share virtual visits offer, through Dec. 31.

For Priority Health, these benefits apply to all of the company’s nearly 1 million members across commercial, individual, Medicaid, and Medicare plans. Covered treatment may be inpatient or outpatient from an in-network provider. Members in a high-deductible health plan are able to take advantage of these offers ahead of deductible, and self-funded employer groups also have the option to opt-in to these extensions.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic some people delayed treatment or care that is medically necessary,” said Joan Budden, CEO of Priority Health. “We want to encourage all of our members to stay healthy by removing any financial hurdles during this economically challenging time. Whether it’s through premium credits or $0 virtual visits, Priority Health is committed to making it easy and affordable for our members to get the care they need.”

The extension of the Total Health Care benefits applies to all of that company’s members across the metro-Detroit region across. Like the Priority Health plan, the benefits include those covered by commercial, individual, and Medicaid policies. Covered treatment may be inpatient or outpatient from an in-network provider. Members in a high-deductible health plan are able to take advantage of these offers ahead of deductible.

“Total Health Care is committed to affordable health care for our members,” says Randy Narowitz, CEO of Total Health Care. “We know that the ongoing pandemic has forced many of our members to miss appointments and go without care. We want to make sure that we make it as easy and affordable as possible for our members to reconnect with their providers and resume their health care routine.”

U-M Regents Approve Budget Shaped by COVID-19 Challenges
The University of Michigan’s Board of Regents approved a budget for the Ann Arbor school during a special session Monday that includes a 1.9 percent tuition increase and $12.8 million in additional need-based financial aid for undergraduates.

The Ann Arbor general fund budget, including its 5.6 percent increase in undergraduate financial aid, will cover the entire cost of the tuition increase for in-state students receiving need-based aid, says President Mark Schlissel, adding that the financial aid office is ready to adjust or grant new aid to families whose circumstances have changed because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The university also will tap into its reserves to meet the need if it exceeds the budgeted amount, Schlissel says.

“We are committed to do our very best to make sure that the COVID-19 pandemic does not result in a lost generation of students who were unable to continue or complete their Michigan educations because of the circumstances we all find ourselves in,” Schlissel says.

University leaders say the general fund budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year reaffirms the school’s long-standing goals of academic excellence and affordability amid financial uncertainty caused by the global pandemic.

The vote came during a special session held four days after the budget proposal failed when regents split 4-4. The general fund budget is part of an approved university-wide consolidated budget package that also included spending plans for Michigan Medicine, UM-Dearborn, UM-Flint, Athletics, Michigan Housing, and a number of supplemental student fees.

The university budget includes the use of more than $400 million from the university’s endowment, Schlissel says. The distributions from the endowment have increased every year, for more than a decade.

During Monday’s meeting, Schlissel also announced he would double an amount he promised during Thursday’s regents meeting for a fund available to support student recruitment, retention and graduation at UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint, from $10 million to $20 million. A number of regents remarked last week that they would like to see greater resources allocated for the two campuses.

“I appreciate the many voices who have advocated for greater investments to promote increased enrollment and greater student success at our regional campuses,” Schlissel says. “I’ll be working closely with the chancellors to determine how best to target this funding since they know their campuses the best.”

The $2.3 billion general fund budget that starts July 1 is based on the new tuition rate, $102 million in cost containment, and an estimated state appropriation of $325.5 million — the same amount as this year. Tuition for the most common lower-division rate will increase by $290, for an annual rate of $15,520 for in-state students and by $966, for an annual rate of $51,838 for nonresident students. A 5.6 percent increase in undergraduate financial aid will cover the entire cost of the tuition increase for in-state students receiving need-based aid.

Most graduate programs also will see a 1.9 percent tuition increase.

In a presentation to regents last week, Interim Provost Susan Collins said the budget supports the work being done across campus to meet the “unique circumstances” of the pandemic.

That includes investments in instructional technology as the university offers courses in a variety of formats, including fully remote, and adapts co-curricular, community-building and other student engagement opportunities to best align with public health guidelines.

The budget presentation also highlighted the significant steps the university has taken in recent months to contain costs and limit the pandemic’s financial blow. Those measures include a university-wide salary and hiring freeze, reducing the salaries of campus leaders, postponing some construction projects, and providing staff the ability to take voluntary furloughs or reduce their work hours.

Collins cautioned that additional reductions would be necessary if enrollment is lower than expected, the university incurs pandemic-related costs that are higher than anticipated, or the university receives a reduced state funding appropriation when the state passes its FY2021 budget.

“The budget supports a public-health informed academic year enabling in-person engagements for our students, as well as needed financial aid support for Michigan families in this extremely challenging time,” Collins said. “With our combined stewardship, U-M can continue to deliver a quality educational experience and pursue the groundbreaking research and discovery upon which the state, nation, and world depend.”

Regents also approved a temporary $50-per-term COVID-19 fee. Revenue from the fee will assist in covering the costs of testing and other health and safety-related services associated with the pandemic.

Students also will see a 1.9 percent increase in the University Health Service Fee to $202.39 per student per semester.

The regents also approved a 1.9 percent increase for residence hall room and board rates for FY2021. The increase will meet rises in day-to-day operating costs while also supporting investments in public health measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19. Need-based grant aid will mitigate this increase for students with financial need.

In Related News: Walsh College in Troy has introduced a Master of Science in Data Analytics, available beginning Jan. 4, 2021. The MSDA can be completed 100 percent online, on-site, or a combination of each. The curriculum emphasizes critical thinking, problem-solving, and applied skill-building through hands-on exercises. It includes 10 core course and three additional foundation courses for students without a technical background. There is no GRE requirement and applications are currently being accepted. For more information, visit here.

In Related News: Davenport University in Grand Rapids is offering Michigan PreK through 12 teachers a free virtual workshop, based on a graduate-level course, to support the creation of online coursework for their students. The program addresses barriers and challenges teachers face when providing instruction online as well as helps them create a virtual learning map for effective online PreK-12 instruction. The workshop will walk teachers through digital platform options for learning and assessment as well as facilitate development of instructional practices to engage and assist learners to connect with course content. It will take place July 21-23 from 10 a.m.-noon. Interested educators must register here by July 17.

Village of Rochester Hills and Renaissance Baronette Hotel in Novi Reopen
The Village of Rochester Hills has re-opened and construction is resuming construction on five additional retail establishments in the complex, and the Renaissance Baronette Detroit-Novi will re-open its doors to guests tomorrow.

Retailers building at The Village include Von Maur, Lovesac, Robert Redford’s Sundance Catalog, Dry Goods, and YogaSix.  Lovesac, a direct-to-consumer specialty furniture brand, expects to debut in mid-July.

The Village of Rochester Hills, along with its merchants, say they have implemented necessary safety protocols, added hand sanitizing stations throughout the common areas, and continue to take steps to clean and disinfect high-touch and high-traffic surfaces. Restaurants at The Village have expanded their outdoor patio seating areas. The Village encourages patrons to wear masks where appropriate and asks that everyone respects social distancing and store-specific guidelines.

“Our property has been a part of the community for over 40 years, and as always, the health and safety of both our shoppers and employees remains our highest priority,” says Bruce Aikens, vice chairman of Robert B. Aikens and Associates, which owns The Village. “We encourage our guest to take advantage of our wide sidewalks and beautiful outside location to enjoy the summertime fresh air, fashion and fun.”

For more information, visit here.

The Renaissance Baronette Detroit-Novi Hotel and its Toasted Oak Grill and Market are re-opening tomorrow. The Baronette will be opening one floor to welcome back guests beginning July 1. Toasted Oak will be re-opening on the same day for dinner service from 5-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday with a new menu.

The re-opening coincides with Toasted Oak’s 10-year anniversary and an announcement by the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards that the restaurant has been awarded The Best of Award of Excellence (2 Glasses) for 2020. Toasted Oak is one of 15 restaurants in Michigan to receive this award.

Toasted Oak is following all CDC and MRLA guidelines for reopening the restaurant. All guests will need to maintain 6-foot distance from each other and the restaurant will require guests to wear masks when not seated at their table. Plexi glass has been placed at Toasted Oak’s bar rail and host stand. It also has been installed at the front desk of the hotel. Additionally, all staff front of house and back of house are required to wear face masks at all times. Restaurant, kitchen, and hotel staff have undergone COVID-19 protocols to ensure all areas of the hotel are sterilized on a regular basis. Toasted Oak also will offer outdoor seating on the restaurant’s patio as well as in the hotel courtyard.

For more information, visit here.

AT&T Improving Internet Connections in Rural Michigan
AT&T, through its participation in the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund – has extended high-speed Internet service to more than 69,000 homes and businesses in rural parts of 61 Michigan counties.

“AT&T is proud to keep people and businesses connected during this unprecedented time,” says David Lewis, president of AT&T Michigan. “While we are able to recognize that there is more work to be done, we are dedicated to improving services and internet access for our customers in all communities across Michigan.”

In the first four months of 2020, AT&T has continued to expand access to new Fixed-Wireless Internet services at 10 additional cellular tower sites. This effort makes high-speed Internet available to more rural customers across the state, as AT&T works to meet its goal of delivering access to more than 17,000 additional locations by the end of this year.

Fixed-Wireless Internet delivers an internet connection with typical download speeds of 25Mbps. The connection comes from a wireless tower to a fixed antenna on a customer’s home or business, creating an efficient way to deliver last-mile high-speed internet to customers living in underserved rural areas.

For more information and to see where Fixed Wireless Internet is available, visit here.

DIA’s Inside|Out Program Brings Museum-quality Reproductions to Communities
Residents of Macomb, Wayne and Oakland counties will be able to enjoy a piece of the Detroit Institute of Arts outdoors in their own community thanks to the museum’s Inside|Out program.

Now in its 11th year, the Inside|Out program brings high-quality reproductions of the DIA’s collection to outdoor venues throughout metro Detroit to increase engagement between the museum and its diverse audience.

From now through the fall at every site, a select number of high-quality reproductions are on view. All works of art are within walking or biking distance of each other.

Over the past 10 years, the Inside|Out program has visited more than 100 communities, reaching thousands of people in their own backyards. Locations this summer include Oakland County Parks, Lafayette Green Gardens, St. Clair Shores, and many more.

This year the DIA also will have Inside|Out installations in five locations throughout northern Michigan, allowing residents from across the state to experience the world-class art found at the DIA. Reproductions will be installed on Mackinac Island, in Bellaire, Ludington, Douglas, and Hancock by the end of July.

The DIA also has installed Inside|Out at the Detroit Arsenal in Warren. This is a unique installation only for those who work at the facility.

Metro Detroit communities hosting Inside/Out exhibitions include: Lafayette Green Gardens, Trenton, Dearborn, Oakwoods Metropark, Livonia, Wayne County Parks, Northville, Wayne County Community College, and Grosse Pointe Woods in Wayne County. Macomb County sites and communities include Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township, Macomb Community College, Sterling Heights, St. Clair Shores, and Utica. In Oakland County, the art can be found at

Oakland Community College and in Rochester Hills, Oakland County Parks, Indian Springs Metropark in White Lake, Michigan Air Line Trailway (in Commerce Township, Walled Lake, and Wixom), Madison Heights, Auburn Hills Public Library, Clarkston, Berkley, Milford, and Hazel Park.

Pontiac’s Grace Centers of Hope Doubles Capacity with New Child Care Center
Grace Centers of Hope, one of the largest faith-based life-skills programs in Michigan for the homeless and addicted, has opened a new Hands of Hope Child Care Center, at 250 N. Perry St. in Pontiac.

The new location nearly doubles the capacity of the previous facility and allows the nonprofit to care for and educate 76 children (up from 43), whose parents are working to overcome issues of homelessness and drug addiction. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will not be a grand opening celebration at the center.

The new facility increases in size from four to seven classrooms, according to Pastor Kent W. Clark, CEO of Grace Centers of Hope, which allows the organization to take care of many more children who were previously on a wait list for Hands of Hope.

“With so many families still facing homelessness and battling addiction, demand for our services continues to grow,” Clark says. “Fortunately, people are coming to us and wanting help. We must have a space for their kids to go while parents attend classes and get counseling, and this significant expansion of our child care center makes that possible for many more families.”

The new building was made possible by a $1.2 million donation from longtime GCH supporters Dan and Pam Davis, a donation that Clark called “a true blessing.”

The new center is located within the nonprofit’s Little Grace Village community in Pontiac, so parents without a vehicle can walk their children to the center for care. It is also adjacent to GCH’s William A. Davis Women and Children’s Center, where many of their mothers reside.

The construction on the 6,357-square-foot, two-story child care center was led by Keith McKenzie of McKenzie Construction.

The new Hands of Hope center features:

  • A school-age space for older children.
  • A multi-purpose room for gross motor activities (riding bikes, running, throwing a ball).
  • A playground that’s three times larger than the previous center’s play area.
  • An upgraded security system to prevent unauthorized entry.

For more information, visit here or call 1-855-HELP-GCH.

Butzel Long Helps Salvation Army Provide 2,300+ Meals to Metro Detroiters in Need
Detroit’s Butzel Long law firm is helping to provide nutritious food to families in need by donating $2,500 to the Salvation Army Eastern Michigan Division. The donation through the Butzel Long Charitable Trust will provide 2,336 meals to families struggling with food insecurity, feeding many families for several days.

Throughout the year, Butzel Long supports many local organizations, charities, and community activities in an effort to give back to the city that it has been located in for more than 160 years.

“Metro Detroit has been severely impacted by the current health and economic crises,” says Paul M. Mersino, an attorney and shareholder at Butzel Long and trustee of its Charitable Trust. “Families depend on local food pantries. It is important to support our community and the good work of organizations like the Salvation Army and Gleaners. Butzel Long will continue to find ways to help our neighbors in need.”

Gleaners Launches Summer Food Program for Children
Gleaners Community Food Bank is launching its Summer Food Service Program for children without access to school meals, with summer meal sites beginning July 1. The program will complement Gleaners’ food distribution programs through its more than 500-member partner network, emergency food distribution sites and emergency food box delivery programs to meet increased community need through the COVID-19 crisis.

“Every child deserves a hunger-free summer, and this year the need for our work to get food into the community is even greater,” says Gerry Brisson, president and CEO of Gleaners. “Children have been without access to school meals since mid-March, and without dedicated summer food programs, many kids in our community would spend the summer wondering where their next meal will come from. Gleaners is dedicated to being a stabilizing resource for our kids.”

This year’s Summer Food Service Program will use multiple distribution models to meet the needs of children or special needs adults aged 19-26 across southeast Michigan.

Grocery sites: These 41 sites provide fresh milk, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and shelf-stable items to supply enough food for children to have multiple breakfasts and lunches prepared by their families in their own homes. Groceries are provided in a drive-thru set-up.

Meal sites: These 21 sites will be offered in two formats: providing take-home or onsite nutritionally balanced, pre-prepared breakfasts and/or lunches. The take-home model allows families with children to pick up the pre-prepared meals once or twice weekly, using a drive-thru set-up. Onsite meals are provided while children are engaged in scheduled programming (such as summer camps or daycare facilities) at each site, with safety protocols in place.

Mobile Delivery sites: These 28 sites will provide families with lunches five days a week, delivered by refrigerated truck at pre-scheduled times to low-income housing neighborhoods. Parents or siblings can pick up the daily meals from the trucks for children in the household.

For more information, visit here.

In Related News: Oak Park’s Forgotten Harvest is partnering with televisions stations CBS 62 and CW50 for the “Feeding Detroit: A Motor City Meal-A-Thon,” today at 7 p.m. on both channels and on Saturday, July 4 at 8 p.m. on CW50. For every $1 donated during this celebrity-filled event, Forgotten Harvest can provide $14 worth of groceries or about eight meals to individuals, seniors, and families in need. Funds raised will go directly toward costs incurred while distributing additional food, renting additional warehouse space, and operating additional distribution sites since COVID-19.