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Faith & Worship

Area churches offering infant mortality workshops

3/16/2017 - West Side Leader
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By Pam Lifke

WEST AKRON — Organizers of a grassroots workshop series to combat infant mortality are taking their message to churches on the near west side of Akron.

The Infant Mortality Workshop Series, developed by the Mount Calvary Baptist Church Nurses Health Initiative and Minority Behavioral Health Group (MBHG), is now being presented at Mount Calvary Baptist, located at 442 Bell St., Thursdays from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. through April 6.

The free workshops are open to the public and anyone — pregnant women, women with infants, fathers, grandmothers, aunts and other concerned community members — can attend, according to workshop officials.

In fact, organizers said they count on reaching not only women who are pregnant or who have infants, but anyone in the community who is willing to learn about factors contributing to infant mortality, defined as death before a child’s first birthday, and spread the knowledge.

“One of our goals is not only to reach the women, but reach the support systems in these women’s lives,” said John Queener, Ph.D., professor of psychology at The University of Akron and a practicing psychologist and founder of MBHG, a sponsor of the program.

A 2013 report by Summit County Public Health showed the county had an infant mortality rate of 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births for 2000-09. However, the infant mortality rate for non-Hispanic blacks was almost double — 14 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to the report. Both rates are far above the goal of 4.2 deaths per 1,000 live births set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2020 initiative.

“All of our nurses are concerned about the health of our community. We felt this was a good way to reach out to the community and help reduce some health disparity in regard to infant mortality,” said Jane Dancy, coordinator of Mount Calvary nurses’ group.

The workshops also fit under the vision and mission for MBHG.

“For us it’s a natural fit to provide services to those who have underutilized mental health services,” Queener said.

MBHG also provides the community with programs that complement the workshops, including programs such as parenting workshops for fathers, grief counseling for parents who have lost infants and teaching cultural competency to health care workers, Queener said.

“I think that from our agency perspective, if we can’t save our babies … we need to re-evaluate who we are,” Queener added.

The Rev. Jeffrey Dennis, senior pastor at Mount Calvary Baptist, approached the church’s nurses’ group about tackling the problem of infant mortality, said Dancy.

“He asked us to step out and help educate the faith-based community,” she said.

Dancy said her group pulled together a team that included expertise in health education, public health, hospital-based nursing and high-risk obstetrics nursing to write a curriculum for the workshops. The workshops are presented by professional nurses, emergency medical technicians and other health professionals.

Workshop topics include information about the infant mortality crisis, the importance of prenatal care, sudden infant death syndrome and safe sleeping, shaken baby syndrome, providing a safe environment for infants and community mental health issues. The workshops also touch on health issues like high blood pressure and good mental health.

The first series of workshops at United Baptist Church were well attended, averaging about 35 people a week, said Cheryl Tanner, program coordinator for the partnership.

“We’ve had wonderful participation — wonderful questions from the audience,” said Dancy.

Dennis, a full-time minister at Mount Calvary, reached out to pastors of other churches on Akron’s near west side to bring the workshops to their congregations, said Tanner. Workshops also are planned for New Hope Baptist Church and First Apostolic Faith Church, she added.

The series is funded by an Ohio Medicaid community initiatives grant to improve birth outcomes and reduce the racial and ethnic disparities in infant mortality, according to Ohio Medicaid officials. United Baptist, the first to host the workshop series, is the home church of state Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-District 34), who helped secure funding for the project, Tanner said.

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