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Inspiring pregnant women toward healthier birth outcomes

March 1, 2023

Kimberlydawn Wisdom is senior vice president of community health & equity and chief wellness & diversity officer at Henry Ford Health. She is the founder of Women-Inspired Neighborhood (WIN) Network, a program offered for pregnant women at Henry Ford Health Detroit to improve infant mortality rates for African American families.

Infant mortality rates are significantly higher in Black communities than in other demographic groups, both in Michigan and nationwide. Why?

At the individual level, a woman may not feel that she can trust the healthcare system, or that she’s being heard or respected. Many have come to providers and their symptoms have been dismissed. The sense is that there is a judgment against them, and so they may not seek prenatal care.

Then you get into the biomedical area. There’s an effect called weathering, described by Dr. Arline Geronimus at the University of Michigan as the cumulative effects of stress on women — higher cortisol levels, that sort of thing. This impacts the outcome of the pregnancy. Statistics have shown that white women without a high school diploma do better than African-American women with a degree. So, this is not just about under-resourced women. I was raised during the height of the Civil Rights movement, but even though we’re 50 years beyond where we were during that time, people of color continue to have microaggressions. Those effects and judgments take a toll.

The Women-Inspired Neighborhood (WIN) Network uses a group visit model where women learn together, get one-on-one clinical treatment from a certified nurse midwife, and mentorship from a community health worker. How does this model address those deeply entrenched social inequities?

The fix is not some rocket science, way out-there solution. We help these women feel valued. Many of them don’t have a mother, a sister, or an auntie that they can look up to, that looks after them. We link each and every one of these women with a community health worker. That person can become anything from their surrogate auntie, surrogate grandma, surrogate best friend who comes with a knowledge base they can trust. They have someone that believes in them. That goes a long way.

Our model is one where group visits — ten visits, two hours — are co-facilitated by a certified nurse midwife and a community health worker. That group visit model helps people feel like part of a sisterhood. And we have found phenomenal outcomes. We’ve had over 600 women through the program and zero preventable infant deaths.

We have a mom by the name of April, and she had three babies prior to joining WIN. She joined WIN, and she had a baby girl named Eva. When Eva was delivered, she was shocked that Eva was so big. She said, “All of my other children were born very small.” She had normalized prematurity. She didn’t know she could have a baby this healthy.

So that just shows how the community health workers — I refer to them as the secret sauce — guide these women through addressing their social needs. Addressing if they’re in a violent situation, addressing housing instability, navigating them into nursing programs or higher education, so that they feel valued, cared for, and truly loved. We don’t use the L-word very often in healthcare settings, but in many instances that’s what it comes down to.

What effect did the pandemic have on WIN Network programming and infant mortality rates in Detroit?

With social isolation and the psychological trauma people experienced based on loss, we’re pretty confident that it’s had a deleterious impact. People were frightened to come in for visits, so they wouldn’t get prenatal care, so things couldn’t be picked up as early.

We had to suspend our group visits because of COVID restrictions, so we connected with women where we could virtually. We dropped off food at their residence and did our best to get them scales, blood pressure cuffs, and dopplers. But that’s the people that we were able to actually touch. Many others were too fearful to interface with the healthcare system until time of delivery.

The beauty is that we are coming back in terms of offering robust WIN Network programming. We learned a lot of lessons from the pandemic about how to pivot quickly, how to engage women and keep them engaged, and that we need to have things like dedicated space. We’ve already started incorporating those lessons. We’re bringing back some of the things we had before, like WIN Network-labeled apparel and reunions every six months, where we take pictures and tell stories, so these women feel like they’re part of a very special club.

What does the future hold for WIN — and for infant mortality rates?

We’re in the midst of expanding to other places within Henry Ford Health. We’re going to expand to Corewell Health West, and we have already expanded to Cleveland. We’re demonstrating a model here in southeast Michigan, and then hopefully replicating that across the country. We’ve demonstrated that you can impact the infant mortality rate pretty significantly. If we’re able to spread in scale, which we’re in the process of doing, we hope to see a significant and sustained decline in our infant mortality rates.

Henry Ford Health Opens New Group Prenatal Care Center to Lower Infant Mortality

October 31, 2022

Detroit’s Henry Ford Health and its Women-Inspired Network (WIN) have opened the WIN Network: Detroit’s Group Prenatal Care Center at Henry Ford Medical Center – New Center One in Detroit.

The opening, led by Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, co-founder of WIN Network: Detroit and senior vice president of community health and equity and wellness and chief diversity officer at Henry Ford, comes 10 years since the first version of the group prenatal care effort launched and began to impact the lives and the health of babies and pregnant mothers.

“This expansion will no doubt save and improve lives. For many of the families we serve, the challenges of housing, transportation, and other obstacles supersede their ability to tend to their health needs and the needs of their families,” says Wisdom.

“We want to partner and implement the innovations and solutions coming from the White House and our other elected bodies in Washington, Lansing, and Detroit. Our plan is to scale and replicate this model across the state and beyond.”

WIN Network: Detroit pairs certified nurse midwives and community health workers with 8-to-12 expectant parents at similar stages of pregnancy for regular check-ups, education sessions, and community connections. Those services are offered throughout pregnancy and through baby’s first year of life.

The new center will increase the number of families that can participate in this program from about 100 per year to more than 250 per year. The goal is to expand WIN Network to other locations and cities.

Group Prenatal Care programs such as WIN Network: Detroit have shown a 41 percent reduction in preterm births for Black women and driven down disparities in birth outcomes, but there is still work to do when it comes to infant mortality, especially in Black and other minority communities.

“Right here in Detroit, we have some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world,” says Wisdom. “There has been much progress through the years and even more so in the last few years as the government has deepened its commitment to addressing infant mortality and health care disparities.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently announced the availability of $4.5 million for hiring, training, certifying, and compensating community-based doulas in areas with high rates of adverse maternal and infant health outcomes.

Dr. Richard Leach, chair of the department of women’s health at Henry Ford, related his experience with patients and fellow physicians who often lack the means to receive the care they need.

“As a physician focused on women’s health, I see the detrimental effects of inequitable healthcare and access to care,” says Leach said. “I also see the many people who are committed to changing this scenario. I believe that building programs that target and support populations affected by inequities will lead to better lives for these patients and families and for society at large.”

Henry Ford Health introduces new prenatal program in Detroit

October 24, 2022

Henry Ford Health introduces and re-dedicates the WIN Network Group Prenatal Care Center in Detroit. Watch this video to learn more about WIN Network.


May 5, 2021

Mayor Duggan and Dr. Khaldun announce historic drop in infant mortality rate in City of Detroit – 2019 had the lowest rate in more than 20 years

  • The historic racial gap in infant mortality narrowed dramatically in 2019
  • Mayor and Dr. Khaldun thank all partners in the Detroit community
  • City offers free transportation to prenatal appointments; Mayor puts out call for women to sign up as SisterFriends program mentors

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Michigan’s top health official, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, today reported a historic drop in Detroit’s infant mortality rate.  According to new state data, the rate of babies born in Detroit that do not live to see their first birthday is the lowest it has been in decades after seeing the steepest drop in more than 20 years.

According to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services data, Detroit’s infant mortality rate plunged from 16.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018 to 11 per 1,000 live births in 2019, representing a one-third rate reduction. Also promising is a significant closing of the disparity between black babies and white babies dying before their first birthday. In 2018 the rate was 18.9 for black babies compared to 6.4 for white babies. In 2019, that gap closed dramatically with a rate of 12.3 for black babies and 9.7 for white babies.

Mayor Duggan and Dr. Khaldun credited a communitywide effort among a wide group of government, private health care, and nonprofit organizations that have worked for years – in some cases decades – to improve the odds of survival for babies born in Detroit, including:

  • Detroit Regional Infant Mortality Reduction Task Force
  • Region 10 Southeastern Michigan Perinatal Quality Improvement Coalition (SEMPQIC)
  • Women Inspired Neighborhood-Network (WIN)
  • Make Your Date
  • Doula based and Midwifery Programs
  • Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association
  • Detroit Infant Mortality Program ( St. Johns Providence)
  • School Health Clinics
  • Great Start Collaborative
  • SisterFriends Detroit


Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom Is Changing the Lives of Black Women and Babies


Henry Ford Health System Receives $266,000 Grant from BET COVID-19 Relief Event Through United Way for Southeastern Michigan

By WebWire| June 04, 2020

Henry Ford Health System has received $266,000 in funding following Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort, which will support relief programs in the City of Detroit, where the African American population has been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Through a multi-pronged approach, Henry Ford’s Office of Community Health, Equity & Wellness will execute a rapid-response model of community outreach to address African American health disparities exacerbated by COVID-19. At Your Door: Food & More (AYD, pronounced “aid”) is an innovative project aimed at promoting health and well-being, mitigating chronic disease, enhancing trust and building community engagement among those with the worst COVID-19-related outcomes. Using a strategy to minimize the amount of possible exposure and time out of the house for vulnerable populations, AYD will provide contact-free deliveries of food boxes, PPE, diapers, culturally informed education, and equipment for virtual support.

AYD builds on three of Henry Ford’s most successful community programs: 1) Fresh Prescription; 2) Women-Inspired Neighborhood (WIN) Network: Detroit; and 3) Knock & Check. Along with the deliveries, participants will receive culturally relevant nutrition information and recipes, and virtual chef-led events. WIN Network, which traditionally provides in-person prenatal group visits for primarily African American women who experience high rates of maternal and infant death, will convert to virtual group prenatal sessions. Blood pressure cuffs and doppler machines will be provided so that women can monitor their health at home, supported by certified nurse midwives. Senior citizens’ social isolation will be addressed through phone visits with community health workers. Lastly, team members will identify community assets and virtually convene networks of community partners as advisors, to be most responsive to future needs, including ever-changing COVID-related information.

Read more about this story here.

As Mayor Mike Duggan touts Make Your Date’s success, Detroit’s preterm birth rate spikes

By Kat Stafford, Joe Guillen, and Kristi Tanner| November 7, 2019

Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, the senior vice president of Community Health & Equity for the Henry Ford Health System, said a lot of work has been done over the past decade to address premature birth and infant mortality, but challenges remain.

Wisdom said a joint effort began in 2008 among Detroit’s major health systems, which took inventory of how many organizations were working on the issue. At least 100 organizations were identified, Wisdom said, but many of them were operating on a small scale and not reaching a significant number of women and babies.

“We know there are efforts that work well and have been very successful,” Wisdom said. “Now it’s a matter of how can we spread and scale the work across so that more and more women have access.”

Wisdom launched the Women-Inspired Neighborhood (WIN) Network which aims to improve access to health care and reduce infant mortality in neighborhoods in Detroit. The organization engages women in the community, Wisdom said, and focuses heavily on group prenatal care, which has been successful.

“There’s no question that community outreach is the game changer,” Wisdom said. “These women had an amazing support system in place that helps them feel like they’re not having to navigate pregnancy and a lot of other challenging situations in their lives alone.”

Read the full article here.

In Focus: Improving Health for Women by Better Supporting Them Through Pregnancy and Beyond

By Martha Hostetter and Sarah Klein| October 1, 2019

In 2016, the Women-Inspired Neighborhood Network: Detroit (WIN Network), founded by four of Detroit’s major health systems in an effort to reduce infant mortality rates, began offering CenteringPregnancy classes. In a first among Centering programs, community health workers (CHWs) help lead the group classes (along with certified nurse midwives from Henry Ford Health System), facilitating discussions on healthy lifestyles and nutrition, how to navigate the health care system, and other topics.

Most of the women who take part are African American and nearly all are Medicaid beneficiaries. While they tend to be relatively healthy (those with medically complex pregnancies are referred to traditional prenatal care), many have financial problems and lack resources to cover basics like diapers and strollers; some live in shelters or boarding houses. “Housing is the biggest need,” says Jaye Clement, M.P.H., M.P.P.director of community health, programs, and strategies at Henry Ford Health System, one of the four founders. “We see 10 people living in two-bedroom apartments.” The CHWs make multiple home visits, as many as 12 for those deemed at highest risk, to assess women’s needs and help them tap into sources of stable housing, childcare, transportation, or other support.

The CHWs work with women during their pregnancies and through their babies’ first year. “We are all about empowerment,” says Nada Dickinson, a CHW team leader. “A lot of women in low-income communities, especially African-American women, feel judged, not just by medical professionals. They don’t think they have value. We tell them they are intelligent and know their bodies. We encourage them to challenge things if they feel something isn’t right.”Across Detroit’s Wayne County, 14 percent of black babies are born at low birthweight and nearly 12 percent of all babies are premature. In contrast, only 7 percent of the 172 babies born to women who’ve participated in WIN Network’s CenteringPregnancy since 2016 had babies with low birthweight or born prematurely.

Read the full piece here.

Maternal Mortality Should Be a Thing of the Past

By Kimberlydawn Wisdom| May 23, 2019

Why do you think maternal health inequities in the US has been getting more attention recently?

The problem of maternal death has been there for a long time, particularly for women of color. It’s getting more attention in part because the media has helped to raise awareness.

Many people think maternal mortality is something of the past. “That doesn’t happen anymore. That happened back in the Dark Ages.” They don’t realize that it’s still prevalent today and is a significant health care and public health issue that affects families in many communities. Many members of the mainstream media were surprised by the data. For example, in the United States we see about 700 to 800 women per year die from either childbirth or pregnancy-related complications. It’s appalling for so many women to die from conditions that are largely preventable.

Some of the media attention has come because celebrities have been affected by complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. There’s also been media coverage about individuals like Shalon Irving. She was an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She had a double PhD. She passed away from childbirth-related complications a few weeks after giving birth to her daughter.

Women with resources, education, access to health care, food, and transportation are dying. The factors that we would think are protectors are not particularly helpful for women of color, particularly among African American women. Some of these women — like Serena Williams or Beyoncé — have tremendous means, and yet are still suffering from the same conditions that people of color without resources have experienced for generations.

Despite the increase in mainstream media attention, what do many people misunderstand about the maternal mortality problem in the US?

Women of color may have challenges psychologically and physiologically in ways that white women don’t. The data show that African American women who have completed college, even graduate school, are much more likely to have a poor birth outcome than a white woman who is a high school dropout.

There’s a phenomena called “weathering” that people of color experience. It refers to the chronic social and environmental stressors of everyday life that people of color experience. This includes not only the major contributing factors we often think of when we think of racism, discrimination, and prejudice.

For example, if you’re followed around a store because people think you may shoplift, that’s a small thing. If you’re not greeted professionally when you go for an appointment, that’s a small thing. If you’re going into a restaurant and somebody overlooks you and serves somebody else, that’s a small thing. But these daily microaggressions begin to add up. It’s like one or two cuts aren’t a big deal. If you have a thousand cuts, that becomes life threatening.

Read more here.

Urban Michigan initiatives recognize racism as major factor in infant and maternal mortality

By Estelle Slootmaker| March 14, 2019

The Detroit area offers a variety of resources to help support the health of mothers and their infants. Detroit’s St. John Hospital Mother Nurture Project supports breastfeeding among its African-American patients. Moms and Babes Too, a WIC program, provides high-risk expectant mothers access to early intervention and preventive care. WIN Network: Detroit addresses maternal and infant mortality by providing a variety of health-related services and connections to local resources for young women considering pregnancy, expectant mothers, infants, and fathers.

Great Start Wayne works with these organizations and many others in an effort to enhance Detroit’s early childhood system. Its messaging campaign, My Baby: Born Ready, is an important example of how Great Start’s many partner health systems and agencies collaborate. The campaign’s ready-made graphics, text, and social media content, which emphasize healthy pregnancy and healthy babies, are used by Detroit-area medical providers, hospitals, WIC programs, community organizations, and health departments.

Read the full article here.

Medical trailblazer: African-American Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom

By Fox 2 Staff | February 27, 2019

Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom has a unique role at Henry Ford Health System as the chief diversity officer. She developed a passion for people in need very early in life.

“One day I came back to my dorm room from the camp and my clothes were dumped out onto the ground,” said Wisdom. “I was appalled. I was incensed. I walked around to see what was going on.” She then found out all the people of color had their clothes thrown on the floor.

Then teenaged Kimberlydawn knew that it was injustice, it was wrong. Why would someone think she had drugs hidden away at a YWCA camp just because she was a young black girl?

“I was 14, I’m a good kid,” she said. “I come from a very good family, Mystic Connecticut, how dare you?”

So she organized and showed up with a group outside the organization’s New York headquarters during a board meeting to protest. And somehow she found herself in front of some powerful women.

Read the whole article here.

How Hospitals are helping families access, improve and navigate maternal health

By Genevieve Diesing | December 18, 2018

Helping new mothers in poverty access care, support and education

Los Angeles-based Adventist Health White Memorial has increased access to prenatal, postpartum and pediatric care for local women living below the poverty line. The hospital’s no-cost hospital and home-visitation program is called Welcome Baby.

Welcome Baby works with families to maximize the health, safety and security of their newborns, and facilitates access to additional support services, such as food banks and educational programs.

Through various prenatal visits, a hospital visit and several postpartum home visits, Welcome Baby provides individual support and information on parenting, early child development, bonding and attachment, health care, nutrition, breastfeeding and home safety.

Since Welcome Baby’s 2013 launch, the rate of mothers who initiated breastfeeding at Adventist Health White Memorial has risen from 67 percent in 2014 to 89 percent in 2017. Of those who initiated breastfeeding in the hospital, 75 percent continued to breastfeed.

Learn more about the program here.

Overcoming infant mortality in Detroit

Faced with one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation, Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System, Detroit Medical Center, Beaumont-Dearborn Healthcare System, and St. John Providence Health System created the Detroit Regional Infant Mortality Reduction Task Force and, more specifically, the Women-Inspired Neighborhood (WIN) Network to help more babies celebrate and thrive beyond their first years.

Through WIN, community health workers guided pregnant women and new mothers through a safety net of social, emotional and clinical supports. The workers also conducted home visits through babies’ first birthdays and beyond. The program also supports nonpregnant women in their communities and online.

Since its inception in 2008, WIN has served 364 African American women between the ages of 18 and 34, who, as a result, had zero preventable infant deaths and better-than-average rates of pre-term and low-birthweight deliveries. The program also helped more than 1,000 non-pregnant women improve knowledge around infant mortality, health literacy, healthy living and family planning; and it provided health care equity training to more than 500 providers and health professionals.

Learn more about the program here.

Promoting perinatal care collaboration, guidance and best practices through multiple disciplines

The Northern New England Perinatal Quality Improvement Network (NNEPQIN) — a voluntary consortium of 43 organizations throughout New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine involved in perinatal care — fosters interdisciplinary collaboration, shares best practices and promotes safety while reducing risk within perinatal care. The consortium includes hospitals, state health departments, professional midwifery organizations and the March of Dimes.

The 16-year-old program, based at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., has ultimately facilitated the collection of high-quality population health data to improve clinical and supportive services for women and their infants, enabling the New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services to study and address maternal mortality and maternal morbidity. The program also helped Exeter (N.H.) Hospital to reduce its early-elective delivery rate from 30 percent to zero using NNEPQIN’s vaginal-birth-after-a-caesarean resources. In addition, the consortium offers a toolkit and checklist for the perinatal care of women with opioid use disorders. Eight sites piloted these resources in 2016 through 2017. After assessing the toolkit’s use, NNEPQIN found significant changes in naloxone prescribing and marijuana and tobacco use during pregnancy, as well as positive trends in Hepatitis C testing and third-trimester drug use.

Read the whole article here.

How community health workers bridge the gap between at-risk communities and healthcare providers

 By Sarah Rigg | July 12, 2018

This article is part of State of Health, a series examining health disparities, how they affect Michigan’s children and seniors, and the innovative solutions being developed to address them. It is made possible with funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

“Sewing up the safety net for women and children” seemed like a great name for a public health program intended to connect metro Detroit women with the many resources available to them. But when that program launched in 2008, organizers found that the populations they hoped to serve reacted mostly with puzzlement or suspicion.

Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom says her clients’ questions ranged from “What are we sewing? Is this a quilting club?” to “Are you suggesting we’re slipping through the cracks?” Wisdom worked on the 2008 program with the Detroit Regional Infant Mortality Reduction Task Force, and she currently serves as senior vice president of community health and equity and chief wellness and diversity officer for Henry Ford Health System (HFHS).

“We thought we were attuned to the needs of the community, but that name did not resonate with the people we wanted to serve,” Wisdom says.

The dilemma was resolved when community health workers (CHWs) – individuals acting as a liaison between their communities and the healthcare field – went into the field, held focus groups, and talked with the women they were hoping to help. They came up with a more empowering title for a program that is still going strong today: Women-Inspired Neighborhood Network Detroit, or WIN Network: Detroit.

That’s just one example of how CHWs often play a crucial role in bridging the gap between healthcare providers and the at-risk communities they serve, and advancing health equity in those communities.

Read more here.

Overcoming racism in Michigan

Along with the educational disparities being addressed, health disparities are also being tackled successfully, despite some tough odds.

Black children are often disadvantaged even before they are born. In Detroit, even with its four major health systems, thousands of doctors and countless social service programs, the infant mortality rate rivals that of many developing nations. It means in any given year, 150 to 200 babies born in the city die before their first birthday. Most of them are black.

To address this imbalance, Women-Inspired Neighborhood Network focuses on reaching new parents in underserved pockets of Detroit. The program matches pregnant women with community health workers who provide support and health monitoring throughout the pregnancy and for one year following birth. With a regional long-term goal of decreasing the infant mortality rate, the program is making headway. The initial cohort of more than 300 parents resulted in no infant deaths.

Read more about this story here.


The Tragic Struggle to Prevent Infant Mortality

By Mattie Quinn | July 10, 2017

If there’s one issue that draws sympathy and action from both political parties, it’s the nation’s infant mortality rate, which is one of the worst in the developed world.

In fact, the United States even trails behind developing countries like Cuba. According to the CIA, for every 1,000 births in America, nearly six babies die before their first birthday.

The infant mortality rate is a good, albeit tragic, indicator of the overall health of a community. If many women aren’t giving birth to healthy babies, it may, for example, signify a widespread drug problem among expecting mothers. The most common causes of infant mortality in America are complications stemming from low birth weight, premature birth, unsafe sleep environments and exposure to secondhand smoke.

In the past decade, several cities with high infant mortality rates have spent money and resources trying to get them down. But despite their efforts, babies are still dying in these communities more often than one would expect for a developed nation.

Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio, provides a stark example of how difficult it can be to address this issue. Since the city made it a priority, the infant mortality rate has actually gone up.

In 2015, the city launched CelebrateOne — a campaign to target eight neighborhoods with high rates of infant mortality. Since then, the infant mortality rate rose from 7.7 deaths per 1,000 births to 9 deaths per 1,000 births. Most disappointingly, most of the uptick was for sleep-related deaths — something CelebrateOne focused on preventing.

Erika Clark Jones, the new executive director of CelebrateOne, says the city only had money for the campaign through the end of 2015. Additionally, the city didn’t deploy a key part of its strategy, community health workers, until June 2016.

“We have to be driving that safe sleep message all of the time,” says Jones. “We need to be constantly reminding them and holding events to keep it in mom’s minds.”

Despite their lack of progress so far, Jones is cautiously optimistic about the future. Her team has an ambitious set of goals that includes reducing the rate of unsafe sleep deaths by 31 percent by the end of the year and an overall 40 percent reduction of infant mortality by 2020.

“We know our goal is aggressive. We’re trying to build in the supports to improve the upstream stuff,” she says.

But it’s not enough to simply throw money at the problem. Practitioners say it has to be targeted to the right people, places and programs. The main drivers of infant mortality are well-known to experts, but they can differ depending on the region.

Shelby County, Tenn.

When Shelby County, Tenn., Mayor Mark Luttrell was elected in 2010 and dug into health data, he found that teen pregnancies and smoking were among the biggest contributors to infant mortality.

Studies have shown that pregnant teens are more likely to smoke and carry sexually transmitted diseases; their young age also puts them at higher risk of complicated pregnancy and premature birth.

In 2003, Memphis’ infant mortality rate was higher than that of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela — nearly 15 deaths per 1,000 births. But by focusing on teen pregnancy and smoking, the city has been able to cut its infant mortality rate in almost half.  At 8.2 deaths per 1,000 births in 2016, it dipped to its lowest level ever, though it’s still above the national average.

“We regularly look at data and adjust our approach,” says Alisa Haushalter, director of Shelby County’s health department. Now, the city is focused on promoting breastfeeding, which the World Health Organization says reduces infant mortality, and getting fathers more involved in raising their babies.


When Kimberlydawn Wisdom was appointed surgeon general of Michigan in 2003, she knew she wanted to address the city’s high infant mortality rate. But she didn’t just want to start another educational campaign that would be forgotten or write another grant for a program that might go underutilized.

“Every time an administration changes and people leave their posts, the rate climbs back up. Let’s tackle this in a sustainable way,” she recalls thinking.

Wisdom, now the senior vice president of community health at the Henry Ford Health System, which oversees Detroit’s infant mortality program, discovered that the city had 100 programs dedicated to infant and maternal health. “But they were undersubscribed,” she says. That’s the bad news. The good news is that “it wasn’t like we didn’t have the resources.”

So she rerouted some of those resources to create a community health program. PSAs and billboards, she says, are useless unless someone links mothers and fathers to the right program — in person. That’s where community health workers come in.

“Community health workers are ultimately the secret sauce to make that connection to different programs; it isn’t going to happen organically,” says Wisdom.

A community health worker is an advocate, often from the place they’re serving, who understands the health disparities and barriers to care that are specific to the community. Their ultimate goal is to help improve new and expecting mothers’ overall well-being in ways that a traditional doctor doesn’t — like securing transportation to the clinic and improving eating habits.

Wisdom did ultimately use grant money to kick off the community health worker program, initially called “Sew Up the Safety Net.” It has since been rebranded to the Women-Inspired Neighborhood Network.

Detroit still has a long way to go. The city’s 2015 infant mortality rate (at 13.3 deaths per 1,000 births) was one of the highest in the country. But Wisdom is encouraged.

In 2012, 323 women were matched up with a community health worker throughout their pregnancy and the baby’s first year. There were no deaths. In the most recent group to be matched, starting in April 2016, there so far have been no deaths. And, 100 percent of the mothers are breastfeeding.

“These women have been having outstanding health outcomes,” says Wisdom.


What will it take to make Detroit a “baby friendly” city?


NOiR show to benefit Detroit infant mortality program

The University of Michigan student group will donate proceeds to the Women-Inspired Neighborhood Network.

A few more high heels will strut the University of Michigan campus next weekend, but they’re not strutting to frat parties.

The 17th annual NOiR Runway Fashion show will be held in a tent on Ingalls Mall, the area in front of the Burton Memorial Tower, on Saturday. The largest fashion show on campus is run by the student group NOiR, which means “black” in French.

“It’s is for students of color to celebrate positive body image,” says NOiR president Kendall Johnson, a first-year graduate student in the School of Social Work.

Johnson, a 22-year-old from Detroit, got involved after watching the show as an undergraduate student at UM. “I really love the fact that it combines fashion and philanthropy. This organization allows me to be involved in two things that I really care about,” she says.

As a fashion philanthropy organization, the 50 models in the show and executive board members are required to perform at least two hours of community service. The group also donates all ticket sales to a cause of their choice. In 2015, NOiR raised around $3,000 for the Children’s Literacy Network of Ann Arbor. This year, all proceeds go to the Women-Inspired Neighborhood Network, a program sponsored by Henry Ford Health System focused on reducing infant mortality in Detroit.

In 2012, Detroit’s infant mortality rate was roughly 15 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to the state average of seven deaths . Noticing the disparity, four Detroit health systems — the Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford, St. John Providence and Oakwood Healthcare — formed the Detroit Regional Infant Mortality Reduction Task Force.

The WIN Network (formerly known as Sew Up the Safety Net for Women and Children) spun out of the task force and kicked off in 2012 to provide education and resources to 375 low-income pregnant women and over 1,200 non-pregnant women from Detroit enrolled in the program.


Jaye Clement, director of Henry Ford Health System’s community health program and strategies, oversees WIN. She says their efforts have led to fewer premature births, and there’s been zero infant deaths among the women who’ve given birth. Another bonus: The program instills “a sense of hope,” she says.

“More of these women are finishing high school or their GED requirement, or finding employment and finding stable housing and really transforming their lives,” Clement says.

NOiR partnered with WIN because there’s a closet connection — WIN often provides clothing for infants and mothers.

“We’ve had situations where the mother has a job interview coming up and needs clothes, and we’ve had situations where just having maternity clothes is a struggle,” Clement says.

NOiR hopes to raise at least $4,000 for the program, Johnson says. The models — who are “from all different backgrounds and races and body size,” she adds — will wear apparel from student designers and local retailers Windsor, Bivouac and Renaissance.

Celebrity stylist Dutch Davis, aka “Dutch The Omen,” (he’s dressed A-listers Nicki Minaj, Nelly and Ashanti) is returning for the third year to style models for the final NOiR scene.

Davis described his collection as “confused and mixed.”

“You might see a boy in a skirt, a girl in a pant suit. You might see a big gown. It will be a lot of black, a lot of militant looks,” he says during a telephone call from Chicago.

He’s not afraid to shake up the Wolverine fashion scene.

“I know the designers in Detroit and Michigan,” he says. “They bring it safe, and I’m not going to bring it safe. I’m going to bring something different.”

Southfield native Malaya Watson, “American Idol” Season 13 contestant, will be hosting the giveaway portion of the show. Items include a football signed by Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh and products from sponsors Steve Madden, Mary Kay and Hampton Creek.

Former Michigan football player Devin Funchess, now a wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, also is on the attendance list.

The last scene may push fashion boundaries thanks to Davis, but we’re guessing Funchess won’t be arriving in heels.

(313) 222-2156



Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom: Focus on healthier Detroit

By JC Reindl  | August 22, 2015


A week in a Detroit hospital emergency room can be an education.

Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom worked in one for 20 years.

She encountered nearly every possible injury and ailment during her decades as an emergency department doctor with the Henry Ford Health System.

Full coverage: Shining Light Award winners 2015

The most frustrating cases for her involved diseases and tragedies that might have been prevented through better personal behaviors and public health campaigns.

“Seeing the types of challenges that came in, that really informed a lot of my work,” Wisdom, the former Michigan surgeon general, recalled recently. “I realized that if we’re really going to improve health, we need to step outside of the four walls of the health system and go into the community and effect change there.”

That epiphany would guide Wisdom through the next phase of her career in public service and health care administration, developing programs that have improved the lives of thousands of Michigan men, women and children. She became the first state-level surgeon general in the country and, at the conclusion of her terms, returned to the Henry Ford Health System, where she is now an executive in charge of community-level wellness initiatives.

Today, her programs are making progress in improving Detroit’s high infant mortality rate, preventing unintended pregnancies, combating obesity and boosting fruit and vegetable consumption among low-income school children.

Wisdom, 58, is the recipient of this year’s Eleanor Josaitis Unsung Hero Award, sponsored by the Detroit Free Press and the Metropolitan Affairs Coalition.

“She has the ability to make quick, decisive decisions that comes from her experience as an emergency department physician,” said Robert Riney, chief operating officer for the Henry Ford Health System, “but she also has the patience to understand how you have to navigate through the political process when you’re trying to really create policy or financial infrastructure for an initiative.”

As Henry Ford’s senior vice president of community health and equity and the chief wellness and diversity officer, Wisdom is focused on improving the many “social determinants” of health among metro Detroit residents, such as access to nutritional foods and to prenatal care for expectant mothers.

One of her programs aimed at eliminating race and class inequities in health care last month won the national Equity of Care Award from the American Hospital Association.

“There are many social determinants of health that are outside of the medical arena,” Wisdom explained in an interview from her office at Henry Ford’s Detroit headquarters. “That means we can have the finest highest-quality medical care, but if we don’t help people with jobs and transportation and access to healthy foods, then we’re not going to have the outcomes that we need to see.”

She is extremely passionate about lowering the infant mortality rate in Detroit, where an average of 200 babies a year were once dying before their first birthday, a rate that rivaled that of some third-world countries.

Wisdom convened a regional infant mortality task force, which led to the creation of the Women-Inspired Neighborhood Network alliance between metro Detroit hospitals and health care providers. This alliance aims to help expectant mothers from Detroit’s most underserved neighborhoods.

Preliminary data show that there were no infant deaths among the first 200 babies born between 2012 and 2013 whose mothers enrolled in the alliance network.

Wisdom grew up in Groton, Conn., where her father was an architectural engineer who helped design the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine. She was one of the few black girls in her school and dreamed of becoming a doctor, despite the advice of a school guidance counselor who had warned that “there’s no such thing as a Negro doctor. No such thing as a woman doctor, you should choose a profession in keeping with your race,” she recalled.

Undeterred, she went on to college at the University of Pennsylvania and later to medical school at the University of Michigan. But it was in Henry Ford’s emergency rooms in New Center and Dearborn that Wisdom encountered the sort of health problems that became the focus of her later work. This included preventable blindness and amputations from Type 2 diabetes.

“Where I really received a major education was in that emergency department,” Wisdom said.

In 2003, she was tapped by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm for the new position of Michigan surgeon general. Until that time, no state had its own surgeon general. She served until the end of the Granholm administration in December 2010.

“I accepted the challenge and felt very honored and privileged to serve in that post and to continue to drive change at the state level on many of the same initiatives — chronic diseases, childhood obesity reduction, infant mortality, teen pregnancy prevention — that I cared about here in the (Henry Ford) system,” Wisdom said.

As surgeon general, Wisdom launched public health initiatives to combat obesity, childhood lead poisoning, unintended teen pregnancies and to reduce smoking. She gave more than 400 speeches across the state and advocated for the 2004 increase to the tobacco tax.

She helped start Generation with Promise, an initiative that educates students from low-income families in Detroit and Macomb County about boosting their fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity.

Wisdom was recruited back to Henry Ford at the end of her time as surgeon general. She brought the Generation with Promise initiative with her, which now serves more than 20,800 individuals a year, or twice as many as in 2012.

“Beyond all of her clinical and administrative skills, it’s her personal passion for equity of care, for eliminating disparities and for health and prevention that are probably her greatest gifts,” Riney said.

In February 2012, President Barack Obama appointed Wisdom to be a member of the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative and Public Health — a creation of the Affordable Care Act.

Gov. Rick Snyder did not continue Michigan’s surgeon general position when his administration took office, “but I’m still hopeful that he will consider it at some point,” Wisdom said.

“This is about the health of communities and is a nonpartisan issue,” she said. “We all should care about the health of our young people, our seniors, our community, because a healthier community drives a healthier economy.”

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Mothers’ helpers: Providers, insurers use home visits to reduce infant mortality

In 2007, Henry Ford Health System in Detroit began to look into ways to address the rate of infant deaths throughout the area, which for years has been one of the highest in the country.

Michigan’s infant mortality rate has remained above the national average since at least the 1980s. A major driver is the disproportionately high number of deaths among black infants, who died at a rate that was nearly double the overall rate for the state, at 13.1 for every 1,000 live births in 2013, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. Detroit accounts for a significant portion of that high rate.

“The infant mortality rate is largely a black infant death problem,” said Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, chief wellness officer at Henry Ford Health.

So in 2008, Henry Ford began collaborating with three competing regional healthcare providers—Detroit Medical Center, St. John Providence Health and Oakwood Healthcare systems—to form the Detroit Regional Infant Mortality Reduction Task Force. The effort, now known as the Women-Inspired Neighborhood (WIN) Network, partners systems with community organizations and local health departments to offer a comprehensive approach—addressing clinical and social factors associated with infant mortality.

“We are taking what we call a ‘social determinants of health’ approach,” Wisdom said. “We look not only at the clinical (factors) for why these babies die, such as prematurity, but we look at other factors in the home and social factors during pregnancy.”

MH Takeaways The federally funded home visiting program ends this month and it’s far from certain whether Congress will approve President Barack Obama’s reauthorization request for funding.

The program trains community “navigators” who connect women with services that address factors that put them at risk for infant mortality. These include low birth weight, malnutrition during pregnancy, smoking and drinking alcohol. Navigators also help with transportation to doctor visits during pregnancy and nonmedical assistance, such as finding resources for education, employment, stable housing and food.

The WIN Network is one of many approaches around the country developed by healthcare providers and others in recent years to identify and solve the root causes behind a national infant mortality rate that’s one of the highest among advanced industrialized countries. Infant death rates vary greatly among the states, with New Hampshire reporting the lowest at 4.2 for every 1,000 live births in 2010, while Mississippi had the highest, with a rate of 9.9 deaths.


A big part of the effort addresses preterm births, a major contributor to infant mortality. Many programs are funded under the five-year, $1.5 billion federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program, which is part of the Affordable Care Act. State Home Visiting Programs have provided more than 1.4 million home visits since 2012, and in fiscal 2014, they served about 115,500 parents and children through hundreds of programs around the country, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

Among the services the program provides are weekly home visits by a nurse to low-income, first-time mothers under the Nurse-Family Partnership program, first established in the 1970s by Dr. David Olds, a professor of pediatrics, psychiatry and preventive medicine at the University of Colorado Denver.

But the federal home visiting program expires at the end of this month and it’s far from certain whether Congress will reauthorize it. President Barack Obama has requested $500 million for fiscal 2016, as well as an additional $15 billion over the next 10 years for the program’s continuation.

Preterm birth is defined as a birth that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy. The infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births among children born after less than 32 weeks of pregnancy was 70 times greater than for those born between 37 and 41 weeks, according to a January 2013 report from the HHS Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Infant Mortality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the number of premature births in the U.S. totaled more than 450,000 in 2012, which accounts for about two-thirds of all infant deaths up to 1 year of age.

“The premature birth rate is a very high driver for infant mortality in the U.S.,” said Dr. Henry Chong Lee, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine. “The U.S. does have a significantly higher rate of premature births compared to other countries that are similar to us.”

Preterm birth was estimated to cost employers more than $12 billion a year in excess healthcare expenses, according to a 2014 report from the March of Dimes. The average medical cost for a baby born at full term through its first year was $5,085, of which $4,389 was paid by employer health plans, according to the report. For babies born after less than 37 weeks of pregnancy, the average cost rose to $55,393, of which $54,149 was paid by employer health plans.

Mothers’ socioeconomic status has been a key indicator for premature birth, where a correlation has been found between poverty and higher risk for infant mortality. A woman’s marital status, her level of education and her age are believed to play a role in determining how much of a risk she faces for infant mortality, according to a study published last September by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty.

UHC began its care-management program about five years ago, seeking to identify at-risk mothers and provide them with medical and social resources, said Tracy Davidson, CEO of the plan, which serves about 275,000 Medicaid beneficiaries. Like the WIN Network, coordinators provide transportation for doctor visits, educate mothers on proper neonatal care, conduct home visits and connect patients with assistance programs for food, housing or employment.

“It really became very important for us to be on the ground,” Davidson said. “Telephonic care management certainly has its place, but actually engaging with the community, doing home visits and beginning to have a real relationship with consumers changes the dynamic of how we’re able to transform healthcare.”

UHC’s program was recognized last year by Ohio Gov. John Kasich for inclusion in a statewide strategy to reduce infant mortality among the Medicaid population in areas identified as having the highest rates.

“Healthier babies being delivered means you have fewer babies in the (neonatal intensive-care unit),” Davidson said. “Providing prenatal care and postpartum care as well as then providing social supports and giving individuals additional resources bends the cost curve from a medical-clinical perspective as well as from a socioeconomic perspective.”

Davidson said her plan’s transient membership has made it difficult to obtain definitive data on the care-management program’s impact in reducing the infant mortality rate. Another issue is that Ohio’s Medicaid managed-care program only started serving beneficiaries on a statewide basis in July 2013. Davidson said she expected to have better outcomes data in the future.

Still, she said the program has seen a reduction in the number of newborn babies with birth weights less than 1,500 grams, which are associated with a higher risk of infant mortality. Also, the infant mortality rate among her plan members is 1% lower than the overall rate for the state.

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Impacting Wellness through Community Health Workers

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Smart, caring, and with a keen eye on families, former Michigan Surgeon General Kimberlydawn Wisdom believes that community health workers are one route to improving public health and reducing health inequities in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods.  Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom of Henry Ford Health Systems has a clear notion about improving public health outcomes for marginalized communities in Michigan.
And isn’t all about medical care.

The concept uses an atypical provider called a community health worker, a trained community member who coordinates care for struggling individuals well beyond the medical care provided by doctors and nurses. Community health workers bridge individuals in the community to medical, mental health, government, and social service systems. Wisdom believes these providers are key to changing the public health landscape.

And when it comes to public health issues and trends, Wisdom knows her stuff. She was appointed in 2003 as Michigan’s – and the nation’s – first state-level Surgeon General to address Michigan’s less than stellar health status. She is the recipient of numerous awards, has authored several peer-reviewed publications, has appeared on national television, including ABC’s Nightline, and has presented to audiences across the country and internationally. She is currently senior vice president of community health and equity and chief wellness officer at Henry Ford Health Systems.

HFHS is using the community health worker model with women living in three Detroit neighborhoods through the Women-Inspired Neighborhood (WIN) Network. The program links underserved women, ages 18-34, that are pregnant or of reproductive age to various resources in an effort to decrease the likelihood of infant death within the first year.

For the women that aren’t pregnant, “We try to work with them to space pregnancies and to address other, what we call, social determinants of health,” says Wisdom. Education, safe housing, consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables are examples of determinants that a community health worker would address, so that when or if a woman becomes pregnant,

Education, safe housing, consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables are examples of determinants that a community health worker would address, so that when or if a woman becomes pregnant, she’s healthier – thus reducing the incidence of infant mortality.

Wisdom is measuring the success of the WIN Network by how many connections each woman makes that she wouldn’t have made without the community health worker and WIN.

“For instance, some of these women have been taken out of homeless shelters and placed in apartments. That’s a connection. We’ve taken women who are not in any kind of education program and helped them get into a GED program. That’s a connection. We help them gain access to Bridge Cards for obtaining food and help them understand the Double Up Food Bucks program. That’s a connection.”

The connections might be for the woman’s health or overall stability or for the baby’s health, with prenatal care, breastfeeding support, or access to car seats, infant bedding, or Pack ‘n Plays.

In other countries, community health workers have been effective in addressing the health and well-being of communities, while here we rely on licensed health care professionals, like physicians, nurse practitioners, and social workers. Yet in comparison to other countries, particularly developing countries, Wisdom says that oftentimes U.S. healthcare is worse.

Community health workers strip down the obvious barriers to someone living a healthy life and raising healthy kids. They not only help individuals navigate through the healthcare system, but help find other needed resources.

In other countries, community health workers have been effective in addressing the health and well-being of communities, while here we rely on licensed health care professionals, like physicians, nurse practitioners, and social workers.

If it’s a prescription for medicine, that’s one thing says Wisdom. “But if the [medical] provider says, “I want you to have access to more fruits and vegetables, I want you to have a safer or less toxic housing environment,’ the community health outreach worker is in a perfect position to help fill those ‘prescriptions’ that a provider ma recommend.”

Community health workers are considered natural helpers, with shared roots and values in the community; they are able, willing and armed to help address social and medical conditions for those with limited resources.

“Health care providers are involved from a medical perspective, doing an excellent job in providing better and better quality, and with greater ability to conduct state of the art procedures… and I applaud those efforts,” says Wisdom. “But community health workers are going to be important in terms of really achieving overall health for our communities.


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