Gone Too Soon: Healthy Babies Need Healthy Communities
Too many of our babies are gone too soon. In fact, a 2010 report called Milwaukee Fetal/Infant Mortality Review, by Michaelski, et al, states that African American babies in Milwaukee are three times more likely to die within their first year of birth than their white counterparts. While there are many factors that contribute to this heartbreaking health disparity, they can be explained, in part, through the Life Course Theory which stresses the relationship of biological, behavioral and psychological factors.
Recognizing this disturbing trend in African American infant mortality and resolved to address it, the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and the Wisconsin Partnership Program (WPP) established the Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (LIHF) to address the high rates of African American infant mortality in Wisconsin. The overarching goal of LIHF is to improve community conditions that help African American women and their families achieve healthy birth outcomes.
The Wisconsin Partnership Program, which funds the Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (LIHF) for four Wisconsin cities, recently announced that it is establishing a new regional program office to support efforts to implement community plans to reduce infant mortality. The Center for Urban Population Health was selected to support the implementation of the projects aimed at eliminating the racial disparity in birth outcomes in Milwaukee, Racine, Beloit and Kenosha.
This announcement comes on the heels of the Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative Transition Team’s completion of its charge to make recommendations to the Wisconsin Partnership Program on strategies for re-establishing the Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative. In a communication to the Milwaukee LIHF Transition Team and Lorraine Lathen, President of Jump at the Sun Consultants, LLC, which was contracted to lead the transition team, the Wisconsin Partnership Program (WPP) leadership thanked Lathen and her team for the final report it submitted on June 12, 2013.
“We wish to thank Lorraine and the full Transition Team for their passion and dedication to this important work in Milwaukee. The Oversight and Advisory Committee recognizes that urgency and timeliness are of greatest importance and will respond as expeditiously as possible,” stated Patrick Remington, MD, MPH, Associate Dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and Chair of the Wisconsin Oversight and Advisory Committee and Eileen Smith, Assistant Dean and Director of the Wisconsin Partnership Program.
In January of 2013 the WPP contracted with Jump at the Sun Consultants, LLC, to make specific recommendations on the future of the Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative. Central to Jump at the Sun Consultants, LLC’s (JATSC) role was assembling a transition team to make recommendations to help move the Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative from the planning phase to full implementation.
JATSC was also responsible for communicating with community stakeholders on the status of the progress of the Milwaukee LIHF Transition Team. The contracting period of this assignment was January 1, 2013 through June 30, 2013.
Process and Approach
JATSC assigned two senior and three junior associates to the project. Lorraine Lathen, President of Jump at the Sun Consultants and former member of the WPP’s Oversight and Advisory Committee, led the team.
JATSC employed a participatory, collaborative approach that involved learning, discussing, and recommending. The team completed a thorough review of the Milwaukee LIHF Community Action Plan, revised work plan, budget and other relevant project documents, and hosted a discussion group with 21 African American fathers and services providers, resulting in consensus building and informed decision-making.
JATSC also collaborated with Mosaic Communications and The Milwaukee Courier Newspaper to develop and implement an 8-part series on infant mortality, titled Gone Too Soon: Healthy Babies Need Healthy Communities. A digital storytelling component of its communication strategy was also developed, titled, Unlit Candle.
The Transition Team
JATSC assembled a transition team composed of 18 members from diverse organizations, backgrounds and expertise. Fifteen of the members were actively involved in the team and 67 percent were actively involved in the planning phase of the Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative. Three of the members had personal experiences with infant death. After five months of intensive work on indentifying recommendations that would result in the re-establishment of a vibrant Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative, the Milwaukee LIHF Transition Team made ten key recommendations.
1. Backbone agency – Through an expedited Request for Applications (RFA) process, identify a backbone agency that includes Milwaukee LIHF Transition Team as reviewers.
2. Leadership – The Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative should be led by a steering committee that is supported by the backbone agency. Its membership should be composed of individuals with demonstrated capacity to support programming in the core areas of the Collaborative’s charge.
3. Financial resources – Establish budget allocation range between $260,000.00 and $370,000.00, per year over a two-year period to support implementation.
4. Infrastructure – The infrastructure of the Milwaukee Collaborative should be a model that involves a steering committee, backbone agency, five work groups, crosssector partners and community members. The five recommended work groups include: (1) Health Care Access, (2) Strengthening African American Families, (3) Poverty Reduction, (4) Fund Development and (5) Communications.
5. Capacity building needs – A work group structure that pairs community members with professional mentors. The team also recommends establishing the Milwaukee LIHF Maternal and Child Health Leadership program to help build strategic leadership in impacted communities.
6. Relationship of Collaborative to LIHF Grantees— Interactions between the Collaborative, backbone agency and funded programs should be guided by the principles for achieving collective impact and the Steering Committee, in partnership with the backbone agency, monitor the alignment of the LIHF-funded programs with the mission of the Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative.
7. Work Plan and Policy Agenda – The policy agenda and work plan should be narrowly focused on poverty reduction, strengthening African American families, increasing health care access and narrowing the geographic focus.
8. Extend duties of the Milwaukee LIHF Transition Team – Extending the period of performance for the Transition Team through October 1, 2013 to implement a variety of activities that will support the Collaborative in transitioning to implementation.
9. Geographic Focus – The geographic focus of the Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative includes 53205, 53206 and/ or 53210 zip codes. These zip codes all have high rates of African American infant mortality and demonstrate greatest need, as defined by the CAP.
10. Accountability – A monitoring process should be put in place to ensure accountability among all entities, and at all levels. In its letter to Lathen and the Milwaukee Collaborative transition team, the WPP reiterated its commitment to support the Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative in developing a plan for providing resources and infrastructure support that continues to engage the community in eliminating infant mortality. The WPP expects to respond to the transition team’s recommendations by no later than August 31, 2013.
The Wisconsin Partnership Program has also expressed its commitment to involving the transition team members in its processes as it works toward implementation of strategies aimed at providing better and healthier outcomes for African American babies.
The Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (LIHF) is the centerpiece of a multiyear evidence-based program created by the Wisconsin Partnership Program and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health that is investigating and addressing the high incidence of African American infant mortality in the state.