Helping Babies Thrive in Baltimore

Posted November 23, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog bmorehealthybaby 2016

Since B’More for Healthy Babies (BHB) began sev­en years ago, Baltimore’s infant mor­tal­i­ty rate has declined by 38% and the gap between black and white babies is closing.

After the city’s infant mor­tal­i­ty rate hit a record high of 13.5 per 1,000 live births in 2009 — when African-Amer­i­can babies were five times more like­ly to die before their first birth­days than white babies — lead­ers from across the city launched BHB, a joint effort between pol­i­cy­mak­ers, ser­vice providers, com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ers and res­i­dents to improve the health and well-being of Baltimore’s families.

B’more for Healthy Babies is con­vened by the Bal­ti­more City Health Depart­ment with Fam­i­ly League of Bal­ti­more and Health­Care Access Mary­land. It is sup­port­ed by a broad range of com­mu­ni­ty, health, aca­d­e­m­ic and agency part­ners, as well as sev­er­al fun­ders includ­ing Casey.

This effort is all about mak­ing sure we tack­le the three lead­ing caus­es of infant death: pre­ma­ture birth, low birth weight and unsafe sleep­ing con­di­tions,” says Gena O’Keefe, a senior asso­ciate who over­sees much of the Casey Foundation’s health and com­mu­ni­ty work in Bal­ti­more. We want to ensure babies are born healthy, and that moth­ers and fathers have the infor­ma­tion and tools they need to help their fam­i­lies thrive.”

Pri­or to B’more for Healthy Babies, Bal­ti­more relied on pre­na­tal and ear­ly child­hood home vis­it­ing pro­grams as a pri­ma­ry pre­ven­tion mod­el — which led to some suc­cess at the indi­vid­ual client lev­el, but was not mov­ing the nee­dle for the city as a whole. In 2009, part­ners start­ed imple­ment­ing a more holis­tic approach that is ground­ed in pol­i­cy change, ser­vice improve­ments, com­mu­ni­ty mobi­liza­tion and behav­ior change.

To be suc­cess­ful, every­thing we do must be dri­ven by the fam­i­lies resid­ing in Bal­ti­more and guid­ed by City­da­ta and sci­en­tif­ic research,” says Bal­ti­more City Health Com­mis­sion­er Dr. Leana Wen.“The stakes couldn’t be high­er and it’s up to all of us to ensure our next gen­er­a­tion is born healthy with the chance to succeed.”

While there is much to cel­e­brate about the progress, too many babies in Bal­ti­more City still do not live to see their first birth­day. BHB will con­tin­ue work­ing to reduce infant mor­tal­i­ty through a mix of col­lec­tive impact strate­gies that include:

  • address­ing struc­tur­al racism and implic­it biases;
  • part­ner­ing with youth, men and women to take charge of their health and wellness;
  • elim­i­nat­ing sleep-relat­ed infant deaths;
  • pre­vent­ing the dam­ag­ing effects of sub­stance use dis­or­der on infants, tod­dlers, youth, preg­nant women, moth­ers and fathers; and
  • decreas­ing teen preg­nan­cy by ensur­ing all women and teens have access to effec­tive contraception.

Thou­sands of health and social ser­vice providers across the city have been trained to help reduce infant deaths by work­ing to ensure all moth­ers know how and where to access resources.

We are encour­aged by the recent data and are excit­ed to con­tin­ue sup­port­ing BHB in this impor­tant work,” says O’Keefe.

Hear more from Gena O’Keefe about B’more for Healthy Babies and this col­lec­tive impact mod­el in a recent Expo­nent Phil­an­thropy webi­nar

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