Board proclaims September Infant Mortality Awareness Month

September 18, 2020

In the Sept. 17 board meeting, Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to recognize September as Infant Mortality Awareness Month to raise community consciousness of ongoing racial disparities in birth outcomes and encourage further work to eliminate these disparities.

LaRisha Baker, director of maternal child and family health for the Health Department, said that African American and American Indian/Alaskan Native populations are most at risk for child mortality, even when controlling for income disparities. Baker noted that Black babies have more than twice the infant mortality rate and are 3.8 times more likely to die from complications of low birth weight when compared to White non-Hispanic babies nationally. 

“Black people and people of color experience higher levels of adversity including economic and social inequities and racism creating high levels of toxic stress and less than favorable outcomes leading to mortality and morbidity,” Baker said.

Speakers from Healthy Birth Initiatives (HBI) and Future Generations Collaborative (FGC), joined Baker during the September 17 meeting to highlight home service and community action work by their culturally specific programs which have helped reduce birth outcome disparities in pregnant Black and Indigenous women. 

Healthy Birth Initiatives, a program designed for African American community members, performs regular home visits with clients, from pregnancy until the baby is two years old. During visits, clients are educated on topics such as preconception and conception health, pregnancy spacing and smoking cessation during and after pregnancy. Clients also receive help finding housing, transportation, medical care, and insurance. 

“Addressing the social and economic barriers such as poverty, racism, violence, housing and food insecurity, HBI has a strong community action network made up of clients, providers, health systems, community members, and anyone interested in making the lives of their community better,” said Violet Larry, director of the program.

Suzie Kuerschner, director of Future Generations Collaborative, spoke about their program’s “life course” model. 

“The disproportionate trauma, both neurological, and environmental, creates consequences throughout the life course and that if indeed we want to grow healthy babies, we have to grow the healthy generations around them.”

Other speakers from Healthy Birth Initiatives included Royal Harris, a father involvement specialist, Sancia Obi, a nurse case manager, and Dianne Clay, a community health specialist.

Courtney Gilmore, a Healthy Birth Initiatives client, urged the Board to recognize September as Infant Mortality Awareness Month. 

“Multnomah County is committed to reducing infant mortality and improving the health outcomes for Black and Indigenous mothers and babies through respectful community clinical practices and interventions, and September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month, an initiative that supports and inspires parents from around the nation to take action and support of the goal to improve the health and wellbeing of women, children, and families,” Gilmore said in the proclamation, which was sponsored by the department of Public Health.

The Board of Commissioners thanked all of the speakers and met the proclamation with enthusiasm.

“I can’t help but feel for all the medical advances we have in our society, far too many women and infants are not receiving the medical care and all of the other socioeconomic care that they need to be healthy,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said following the presentation.

 “We all know how intertwined what is going on in our world is, and what an impact it has on our physical and our mental health, especially for Black and Brown communities. It all starts with awareness, and I appreciate you making sure people understand that this is a huge issue and we still have a lot of work to do.”

Chair Deborah Kafoury echoed Commissioner Stegmann’s comments and praised the speakers for all of their hard work. 

“We know that there’s just so much that is troubling in our community right now, from COVID to people protesting in the streets due to racial inequities, and it is the work that you all are doing and have been doing that is moving the dial forward and changing people’s lives.”