Kent Hires For Strong Beginnings

December 13, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County commissioners recently approved adding four workers to the county’s Health Department to fulfill its role in the Strong Beginnings Program.

The Health Department is one of four local organizations providing outreach services for the program, which has aimed its effort toward African-American women living in Grand Rapids who are pregnant or the mother of a child up to two years old. Spectrum Health, Saint Mary’s Health Care and Cherry Street Health Services also are providing services.

“We’re just a subcontractor,” said Cathy Raevsky, administrative health director for the county.

The county will hire 3.5 outreach workers and a public health nurse supervisor for its participation. All the positions are terminated in eight months. Funds distributed by Spectrum Health will pay for the salaries and benefits, an amount that totals $124,100. The Spectrum grant also includes $7,194 for supplies and travel and $9,928 for administrative expenses.

CountyDirector of Community Nursing Services Sandy Walls told the Business Journal two of the four positions have been filled and the others should be filled by the end of the month.

“As for the outreach workers, one component of their job, and probably the larger component, will be working with selected African-American women in the city who have need for some peer level support and education. They will be making independent home visits, but the case management will be done by the maternal support staff,” said Walls.

“That piece of the project, quite frankly, is still under development. We’re really in the very early stages,” she added.

The goal of the Strong Beginnings Program is to lower the infant mortality rate in the local African-American community. Funding for the effort runs through 2008 and comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A federal grant is expected to total $700,000 each year, giving the program $2.8 million over its four-year life.

Joining Spectrum, Saint Mary’s,

Cherry Street
and KentCounty in the program are Healthy Kent 2010, Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse, MetropolitanHospital, Grand RapidsMedicalEducation & ResearchCenter and the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute.

“There are multiple health disparities that exist today in the African-American community. One of the most significant remains the rate of infant mortality. We want to build new bridges among health and community-based organizations to help women receive adequate perinatal care and education,” said Paul Doyle, chairman of the local African American Health Institute.

Strong Beginnings wants to reduce the barriers to care that black women and their children face and promote the African-American community to advocate for culturally competent care and improved screening and coordination in the treatment of pregnant women.

“We want this program to act as a catalyst to help and encourage women to take their health, and the health of their unborn children, into their own hands. By making efforts to improve screening, coordination and education, I am confident we can reduce the infant mortality rate in the Grand Rapids area,” said Mary Kay Kemper-VanDriel, director of Spectrum Health’s Healthier Communities Department.

Measures for success have been developed for the program, ranging from increased rates of first trimester care visits to higher treatment rates for women diagnosed with depression.

All in all, the agencies behind Strong Beginnings are hoping that four years from now the program has an even stronger ending.

“Strong Beginnings is a good example of the area health community’s extensive record of collaboration to reduce health disparities among different populations,” said Raevsky. “By coordinating our efforts, we can hope to make a much larger impact on women than if each organization were to go at it alone.”    

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