Viewpoint by Chandra Smiley, CEO CHNWF Read at PNJ.com
If the fact that the United States has the highest maternal and infant mortality rate among comparable developed countries is not bad enough, the survival rates for African-American infants in Escambia County are even more dismal.
Since infant mortality is arguably the single most important measure of a community’s health, it was disheartening to read the News Journal Kamal Morgan’s article (July 3) about the increasing rates of high infant mortality among our county’s African-American population.
According to the Escambia County Healthy Start Coalition, from 2019 to 2021 white infant mortality deaths in Escambia County per 1,000 live births decreased from 7.6 to 4.2 annually, while during the same period the rate for black infant mortality has increased from 8.7 to 13.8.
Morgan wrote: “This disparity has been attributed to numerous factors affecting Black mothers, such as a lack of knowledge about prenatal care, poor diets, lack of community support and medical complications like high blood pressure disorder or preeclampsia that are often exacerbated by the aforementioned factors. “
Ensuring access to comprehensive, affordable, high-quality health care is vital in the effort to eliminate racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality.
At Community Health, we strive to make healthcare accessible as our mission is to provide a full range of health and wellness services to all who walk through our doors.
We operate 23 locations across Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. We provide nearly 160,000 visits to 53,000 unduplicated patients last year – of which 95 percent of patients reporting incomes at or below 200 percent of the poverty level and 78 percent either had no insurance or were enrolled in Medicaid.
In the midst of the challenges we face, Community Health has taken significant steps towards bridging the gap by providing comprehensive and accessible women’s prenatal care.
To address concerns, we made a strategic move in 2022, relocating Women’s Care to create a convenient, one-stop location. The move to a centralized location for women’s prenatal care in Northwest Florida represents a pivotal moment in addressing disparities that exist in maternal healthcare.
Closely related to infant mortality is the teen pregnancy rate. Babies born to teens may be at greater risk for preterm delivery, low birth weight and neonatal mortality.
In Escambia County the birth rate per 1,000 total population for white teens in 2021 (the most recent reported by the Florida Department of Health) was 18.3 percent, compared to a staggering 45.6 percent for Black teens.
In Santa Rosa, the 2021 birth rate for Black teens was slightly higher at 18.8 percent than white teens at 16.4 percent.
Teen pregnancy is closely linked to a host of other critical social issues as well: welfare dependency, out-of-wedlock births, responsible fatherhood, and workforce development in particular.
Adolescents are less likely to seek out prenatal care because they are afraid or embarrassed, but we have found a way to help.
Tara Woodall, a nurse practitioner at our Milton site, has a passion for working with teenagers. She offers an after-hours health clinic just for adolescent and teen girls up to age 18.
Her clinic is an opportunity to empower teenagers and young women to take charge of their healthcare at an early age, giving them the education and support to avoid unwanted pregnancies and health risks.
The efforts made by Community Health serve as an example of healthcare providers across the country. By recognizing and addressing the unique challenges faced by vulnerable communities, we can strive to create a more equitable and accessible healthcare system for all, especially mothers, fathers and infants.
Together, we can pave the way for healthier parents, healthier infants, and a brighter future for everyone in our communities.
Chandra Smiley is the CEO of Community Health Northwest Florida which is committed to assuring access to affordable, quality healthcare for the underserved, underinsured and uninsured population. Anyone in need of assistance is urged to contact us at healthcarewithinreach.org.