by Ariele Vaccaro
After this winter, it could become more difficult for some Milwaukee mothers to find the resources to keep their children healthy.
The Milwaukee Healthy Beginnings Project (MHBP), a project of Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, has been working to lower the rate of infant mortality since its inception in 1998.
After 17 years of operation, the program is slated to dissolve in 2015.
The Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin was denied a grant that accounts for about 80 percent of its budget.
That leaves a gaping hole in the organization’s funding and significantly cripples its ability to serve the vulnerable women who use the program for prenatal care referrals, nutritional literacy, immunizations, and housing information.
The National Healthy Start Association’s Partnership to Eliminate Disparities in Infant Mortality grants a total of 750,000 dollars. According to Clarene Mitchell, director of communications and collaboration for the Black Health Coalition, the Maternal Child Health Bureau made the decision not to renew the grant. The Maternal Child Health Bureau is a department within the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
“It’s a major hit for the community and the organization,” said Mitchell. She noted that September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month. “It’s just tragic for Milwaukee.”
Marty Kramer is director of communications for the HRSA. In an e-mail to the Milwaukee Courier, he said that the funds were discontinued because the HRSA has begun to give out grants competitively this year.
Applicants who have previously received a grant must show how they will improve their services in the future. They are evaluated and scored by an objective review committee.
“Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin did not score high enough to be funded,” said Kramer.
What exactly does this loss in programming mean for the city?
“In a city such as Milwaukee, where the black-white infant mortality disparities continue to widen, losing this vital resource will no doubt worsen the status of infant health in our community,” said Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin President and CEO, Dr. Patricia McManus said in a press release.
African-American children are currently three to four times more likely to die during infancy than white children.
According to Mitchell, MHBP worked with “clients who are the most vulnerable and the most disenfranchised”, such as the incarcerated and homeless.
The organization has served up to 750 women. The program has made tangible strides in increasing the health of Milwaukee infants whose mothers utilized MHBP.
“Those babies have higher birth weights and have better health outcomes,” Mitchell said.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett commented that Milwaukee needs more aid for programs like MHBP.
“The loss of this funding is a significant setback to the efforts to ensure that more infants are born healthy and live to celebrate their first birthdays,” said the mayor.
Loss of such a significant amount of capital will lead to necessary modification of the Black Health Coalition’s structure, according to Dr. McManus.
The coalition is among other organizations that will not receive federal funding for infant mortality efforts in the coming year. The Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, an organization that offers education, health and economic services to Native Americans in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, will not secure a grant for its Honoring Our Children Program.
Mitchell said that MHBP operations will slow down throughout this fall and will no longer take new clients.