Thirty residents in the Greenmount East community met in four focus groups held from Feb. 16 – April 14, 2011, to explain what infant mortality means to their community, one of the most at-risk as determined by 2009 study “The Strategy to Improve Birth Outcomes in Baltimore City.”
B’More for Healthy Babies, the People’s Community Health Center, and Baltimore’s Healthy Start sponsored a town hall meeting to discuss the data accumulated by those focus groups and how the community can access what they vocalized was needed to curb infant mortality rates.
Only no one came to the meeting.
“That’s community organizing 101,” Community Program Officer for the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health Natasha Ramberg said. “Sometimes you can plan something, people won’t show. You can plan something people, won’t show, but they’ve heard about it. So by the third time, they’ll come.”
Knox Presbyterian Church on North Eden Street hosted the attendee-less meeting on April 28. Dinner was served, as it is every Friday for community members, many who are jobless and facing issues with social services.
“We just realized it’s the end of the month. People receive benefits, so they’re probably out getting things for their families,” Ramberg said.
Greenmount East resident Elaine Biddle participated in one of the focus groups and said she remains active in such community activities. Though she hasn’t personally experienced a loss of a child from the unsafe indicators the initiative looks to eradicate, as someone with six children of her own and three grandchildren, Biddle said she other members of the group looked to her as a trustworthy source for advice.
“I talked about my kids, how did I raise six kids on my own, no father,” Biddle said.
The issue of infant mortality is important to the neighborhood, Biddle said, but she is an example of a resident in need of help in other areas of her life and a potentially different focus. A lack of work has her scouting for one-day jobs, and participating in community outreach programs often leads to work through the program leaders.
“It’s a little crowded here, so we all need that kind of attention,” Biddle said
What Biddle said confused her was that she, an active member of the community attempting to join and help in any way she can in a hope to make ends meet, didn’t hear about the meeting. Advertising wasn’t done as effectively as Ramberg said was needed, but Biddle said a telephone effect takes place as soon as one community member gets word of an event such as a town hall meeting.
“If they did [advertised], all would’ve come. It would have been crowded,” Biddle said. “All you got to do is pass the word one at a time. We didn’t get the word. I can’t believe that they [initiative workers] did and we all missed out.”
Much of the event’s promotion was done online, Ramberg said, an effective method for Greenmount residents who have Internet access on their cell phones.
But the average Greenmount resident doesn’t have a steady source of income or food, much less a cell phone. Biddle lost her purse three years ago and has been searching for it since. She lost all forms of identification, including her license and birth certificate, without which she cannot obtain new forms of ID, find work, or receive health benefits.
While the issues are important, Ramberg recognizes the priority of the families living in Greenmount East may not be learning how to change the indicating factors to fight infant mortality in their community. They’re already fighting just to keep their families afloat in a neighborhood with boarded up homes and sirens heard on a regular basis.
“In Baltimore everybody can tell you how many people died last night, but nobody can tell you how many babies died,” Ramberg said. “Not that people don’t care babies are dying. But unless that happens to me personally and I know what that pain feels, like it’s hard to grasp that.”
B’More For Healthy Babies hasn’t had the government backing to continue funding initiatives such as a Weight Watchers program for women in Greenmount East, as well as Druid Heights and Patterson Park North and East.
While the program has several grants in the works, including a proposal for a $400,000 grant from the Office of Women’s Health to continue the Weight Watchers program for free or low, programs that build excitement only to fold due to lack of funds can cause distrust from the community.
“People are like, ‘Well that sounds really great and I get why that’s important, but I’m not sure I want to get excited about that because how do I know you’re going to be here tomorrow when I’ve really got to worry about putting dinner on the table for not only the three kids that I have, but the baby I’m carrying,’” Ramberg said. “’And my husband or father of these babies is trying to do what he can, but he can’t get a job, so why should this be my issue?’”
All Ramberg said members of community outreach programs can do is make information accessible. Free child care, transportation and food are offered during focus groups and town hall meetings to drive interest, Ramberg said, but the initiative is fighting a community that may feel removed from the issue of infant mortality.
Both men and women attended the groups and gave feedback, allowing program leaders to gather and understand how the community sees their access and need for pregnancy and parenthood resources, said Dwyan Monroe, a community health liaison for Baltimore Healthy Start.
“It’s a lesson learned to us. It’s just like, ‘OK, what’s the next step,” Monroe said. “People aren’t just coming not to come.”
The town hall meeting was rescheduled for June 9, a month earlier than the initiative hoped to start recruiting neighborhood action team members after conveying this information to the community.
Ramberg and Monroe said the program was not set back significantly because of the cancelled meeting. Residents may not yet understand that those in charge of B’More For Healthy Babies say they have a different approach to assisting community needs.
“So many times in Baltimore many initiatives that we’ve had have always been top down, always been us telling people what to do and how we think they should do it in order to get positive outcomes,” Ramberg said. “But this time it’s really community driven and how the community can be a part and really change.”
B’MORE FOR HEALTHY BABIES’ FIRST YEAR
In its first year, B’More for Healthy Babies focused on reducing unsafe sleep practices in Druid Heights. Difficulty getting information to those most affected, lack of funds for continuing programs to help end unhealthy practices before they begin, and the unwillingness of Baltimore citizens to address the issue of infant mortality have kept officials from fully determining if the initiative is making progress. >>Read More
DOES INFANT MORTALITY MATTER TO BALTIMORE?
Members of health agencies, such as the Family League of Baltimore, have been campaigning for safe sleep practices and visiting homes for almost a year as part of B’More for Healthy Babies. That’s not the culture of raising babies in Baltimore, one Druid Heights resident said. >>Read More
More than 40 percent of women in Baltimore are obese, Administrator for Maternal and Infant Care Program for the Baltimore City Health Department Stacey Tuck said. Obese women have more problems during pregnancy and delivery than those at healthy weights. In fall 2010, a pilot obesity reduction program was run in the Patterson Park North and East, Upton/Druid Heights, and Greenmount East communities. The B’More Fit for Healthy Babies program, an offshoot of the original initiative, created Weight Watchers support groups for women of child-bearing age to learn how to take care of themselves and their families in a way that fits into their lifestyle. >>Read More
KEEPING THE COMMUNITY INFORMED
B’More for Healthy Babies, the People’s Community Health Center, and Baltimore’s Healthy Start sponsored a town hall meeting to discuss the data accumulated by those focus groups
and how the community can access what they vocalized was needed to curb infant mortality rates. The meeting was cancelled after waiting an hour and a half with no one showing up to attend.
Director of the Mayor’s Office of Policy and Communications Ryan O’Doherty and Press secretary for the Office of the Mayor Ian Brennan discuss the importance of the B’More For Healthy Babies campaign and the effectiveness of the initiative’s first phase.
Infant mortality statistics for Baltimore City have remained stagnant for the past decade.
Maryland has 7.3 deaths per 1000 live births, ranking 19th worst in infant mortality rates in the United States.