New Haven Register
NEW HAVEN — New Haven Healthy Start’s work to close the stubborn gap in infant mortality rates between white families and families of color has been given a boost with more than $5.3 million in federal grants to the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

The five-year grants will allow the Healthy Start program to hire more community outreach workers and patient navigators to increase care and resources for newborns, pregnant and new mothers, as well as fathers. Project Access at Yale New Haven Hospital also will become a new partner, coordinating care within the hospital as well as with outside resources.
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When New Haven Healthy Start began in 1997, the infant mortality rate was 22 per 1,000 live births. While it has dropped to 7.3 overall, the rate in New Haven’s black population rose from 10.91 for 2013-15 to 11.5 in 2014-16, according to the foundation. For those enrolled in Healthy Start, however, the mortality rate was 4.5 for 2017, according to the foundation.

However, the number of infant deaths among African-American babies doubled from five in 2015 to 10 in 2016, while the number of babies who died in their first year dropped from two to none among whites and from two to one among Hispanics, numbers foundation President William Ginsberg called “unconscionable.”

“This community has actually focused as a top priority on childhood mortality and maternal health” since the mid-1980s, said Ginsberg, who worked for Mayor Biagio “Ben” DiLieto at the time. But with the new money and Project Access coming on board, Ginsberg said, “It’s a continuation but it’s also a new program,” which he dubbed New Haven Healthy Start 5.0. “There’s a direct threat from that moment to this announcement today,” he said. “These disparities … remain unacceptable in our community.”

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, called Kenn Harris, director of New Haven Healthy Start, “a fierce advocate for the health and well-being” of new mothers, fathers and their children. “You don’t deal with these pieces in silos,” she said. “It is the overall approach to eliminating disparities in newborn health.

“We all know there is room to grow,” DeLauro said. “In New Haven, black babies die at a rate twice the rate” of white women. “Nationwide, black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. … The depth of our conviction must match and exceed the size of the challenge before us.”

New Haven Healthy Start received $4.7 million for “eliminating disparities in perinatal health” and $600,000 to “expand clinical support for maternal mortality.” While 100 communities across the nation were awarded $100 million in grants, DeLauro said “the administration’s proposed budget [for] 2020 fails to support either of these programs,” with a $17 million cut to the maternal block grant.

“You will make sure that all of our children will get the care that they need, not only to survive but to thrive,” she said.

Healthy Start also works with Yale New Haven Hospital, Fair Haven Community Health, the Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center, Christian Community Action and New Reach shelter to connect with pregnant women and new parents. “The new money will also help to enhance our work through community health workers and patient navigators, specifically male navigators,” Harris said, with five or six new staff members.

Referring to the disparity in infant mortality, Darcey Cobbs-Lomax, executive director of Project Access, said that as an African-American mother of four, “when I read the data, it’s startling that this is the reality for so many women of color in this community.” She said over the past 10 years, “the value of the care that’s been donated to our patients is in excess of $48 million.”

“We will help coordinate the navigation and the community health workers of existing and newly hired staff that will be coming on board,” she said. “Essentially the idea was to sort of bring everybody together under one umbrella so there is some continuity in how services are provided and delivered.”

Harris said the patient navigators will help “if you need something outside of our institution I’m going to help you get to those services. New Haven has a lot of gaps and cracks. … Our navigator helps them from falling through the cracks.” Healthy Start also works with the Community Action Agency and New Haven Family Alliance, which is “our partner around fatherhood.”

Harris said that for the first time, recognizing the work that Healthy Start has been doing in working with fathers, including those who are previously incarcerated, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau has included fathers in the grant. A new program, called Heart of 100, will focus on 100 new fathers to offer increased services.

“It’s comprehensive. It includes a life course perspective,” which also will focus on the impact of racism and re-entering society after prison, Harris said. Fathers are also enrolled in Texting for Dads program, which provides information about the developing fetus and newborn. The Men’s Consortium, a New Haven Healthy Start program, offers programs such as Dads and Diamonds are Forever, an 11-week course for fathers that is “meeting him where he is,” Harris said.

“Most of these men are kind of broken and fragmented,” he said. Dads and Diamonds focuses on issues of manhood and anger management, among others. Another, the Men’s Health Circle, works with barbershops that cater to black and Hispanic men to offer services.

At Monday’s press conference, Ginsberg also announced that the Association of Black Foundation Executives has named Kara Straun, knowledge and evaluation manager at the foundation, its 2019 Emerging Leader in Philanthropy. She will receive her award Friday at the association’s annual conference in Detroit.

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