Forging Forward 2022 is a series of six articles about organizations helping our region make progress on the significant issues challenging our friends and neighbors. The series is presented with the generous support of The Pittsburgh Foundation.
The #ONEDAY Critical Needs Campaign, a day of online giving to organizations doing vital work, is on August 9: mark your calendars and plan to be part of something great!
DOESN’T EVERY BABY DESERVE A FAIR AND HEALTHY START NO MATTER THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN? ORGANIZATIONS LIKE HEALTHY START, WHICH WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1991 BY THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, HEALTH RESOURCES AND SERVICES ADMINISTRATION, HAS BEEN WORKING TOWARDS REDUCING THE INFANT MORTALITY RATE FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS, WITH A FOCUS ON IMPROVING HEALTH OUTCOMES BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER PREGNANCY.
And that is a tall order. Because of deep-rooted systemic racism, Black babies under the age of one in Allegheny County die at a rate more than five times that of white babies. Black women in Allegheny County have nearly twice the number of preterm births and more than twice the number of low-birth-weight babies compared to white women.
Ending these disparities is the responsibility of the entire community. With that in mind, Healthy Start and its partnering organizations have launched the Allegheny County BIRTH Plan For Black Babies and Families. Its goal is to battle inequities and realize transformational health outcomes.
“We serve the broader community by serving as an advocate for centering the lived experiences of Black women and others we serve, as well as by supporting the Black birthworker community as a complement to our traditional medical system,” said Jada Shirriel, CEO.
The action plan centers around the voices, experiences and leadership of Black women and community members in the region. Partners sought out broad community input and incorporated what they learned into a plan that includes key action areas which all seek to improve maternal and child health.
Shirrel is hopeful that through the lens of equity, Black women in Pittsburgh – who die from pregnancy and childbirth related complications at a rate higher than 97% of similar cities – can be significantly reduced, saving and improving the quality of more lives.
“We approach our work through the lens of the social determinants of health,” said Shirrel. This approach acknowledges that our health is largely impacted by the context in which we live — economics, education, social and community context, neighborhood and built environment, as well as health care. “Because our work is rooted in a focus on the Black community and childbirth, race and gender come into context,” she added.
In this politically charged time, with states banning abortion and restricting care to pregnant people, Shirrel recognizes the urgency and necessity of this work. “I have never met any person that has said they want strangers to control their most important and deeply personal decisions. I want people to understand that you can maintain your personal values without coercing, controlling or oppressing others. Public policy should not be destructive,” she said.
Constructive care matters, with Healthy Start focused on programs that provide support to both parent and baby, targeting supports for mental health, fatherhood, child development, nutrition, prenatal care and more.
“Foundation support is key,” said Shirrel. “The support is critical to our ability to be innovative and responsive to evolving community needs,” she said.
On August 9, you can be a part of supporting the great work of Healthy Start, all of the amazing programs to support maternal and infant health, and all of the bold initiatives to reduce racial and gender disparities in these spaces. Join the Pittsburgh Foundation’s ONE DAY campaign to provide support to Healthy Start. Together, we can create a healthier and more equitable world!
Get to know Healthy Start here, and support its work to address our neighbors in need.
Read about other organizations doing vital work to help our neighbors in Western Pennsylvania by reading more in our Forging Forward series, presented with the support of The Pittsburgh Foundation:
STORY BY NATALIE BENCIVENGA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JUSTIN MERRIMAN
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