Women’s Health

Community-Based Care Improves Birth Outcomes for Women At Risk

athryn Hall, founder and executive director of the Center for Community Health and Well-Being (the Center), first became interested in infant mortality in the 1980s while working for the California Department of Health Services.

“I saw the costs to the state system associated with negative birth outcomes, and I wanted to save the state some money,” Hall said. It didn’t take long for this interest to take root, motivating her to start her own community-based organization. Over the next 14 years, she developed a true passion for ensuring healthy births among underserved women in the Sacramento area.

Under Hall’s leadership, a number of different programs have been established at the Center that target at-risk pregnant women, their partners and their younger siblings. Notably, its Birthing Project model has been replicated in more than 70 communities.

The Center received a three-year grant of $120,000 from TCWF to provide prenatal and health promotion services and to build the organization’s fund development capacity.

“Community-based agencies that know their target populations are vital parts of California’s health care safety net,” said Alicia Procello, TCWF program director. “With the struggling economy and state budget crisis, it is critically important that agencies like the Center have a broad base of support for their programs.”

The Center’s programs guarantee that at-risk young women receive culturally competent prenatal care and options for delivery at hospitals, local birthing centers or at home. They have the option of being paired with a “SisterFriend,” members of the community who volunteer to provide emotional support and assistance to women throughout their pregnancies and up to their babies’ first birthday. Clients are also linked to supportive services that provide assistance in such areas as housing, education and their on-site substance abuse program. Women are encouraged to bring their younger siblings to the Center for participation in its prevention programs. The Center’s staff is reflective of the primarily African-American and Latina clients served, most of whom are members of the community in which the Center is located.

More than 20 percent of the women who enroll in the Center’s prenatal program present with positive drug screens. The social workers’ offices are purposely located near the Center’s midwives’ offices. Staff helps women deal with immediate stressors first, such as finding a safe place to stay and helping with substance abuse problems. Then they escort the women across the hall to meet with a midwife. Fathers are encouraged to enroll in The Barber Shop, a program that provides information, services and support to new dads.

“It’s easier to change your behavior when you’re not working alone,” the Center’s Hall said. “Because of the difficult circumstances in their lives, many people with low health status don’t feel good about themselves or have a sense of purpose in their lives. By treating them affirmatively, by looking at their strengths, we can build their feelings of self-worth to the point where they are more likely to take the steps they need to in terms of behavior change to be healthy.”

“I’m optimistic that we can continue to reduce infant mortality,” Hall said. Along with the challenges that clients bring to the Center, the majority also brings a spirit of resiliency and determination.

Summer 2003

Young Californians Advocate for Healthier Communities

Honoring senior volunteers

Recruiting Native Americans for careers in health professions

Center’s services for at-risk women aim to reduce infant mortality

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