City + Citizen News

Building a Culture of Health: Part 3

Thursday, November 12

Healthy Babies Task Force Making A Difference


Note: On Oct. 28, Spartanburg was named a 2015 winner of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize. In becoming one of just eight communities nationwide to earn the designation out of more than 300 applicants, Spartanburg was recognized by the leading health philanthropy in the country for its years of work in addressing health outcomes countywide. While this work has brought dozens of organizations and hundreds of people together, the effort has coalesced around five broad areas: Active Living/Healthy Eating, Access To Care, Behavioral Health, Healthy Birth Outcomes, and Smoking Reduction.


This week we will share what we hope will be a concise yet informative five-part look at the progress that has been made over the past several years in each of these five focus areas. At the end of the week, we will then share a link to an online poll that will allow the public to decide which of the five focus areas will receive the $25,000 award that came with the Culture of Health Prize.


In this part we look at Healthy Babies/Improving Birth Outcomes. Also, read Part 1: Active Living/Healthy EatingPart 2: Access To Care, Part 4: Behavioral Health and Part 5: Reducing Tobacco Use.


Healthy Babies/Improving Birth Outcomes


53 percent in seven years.


If you follow the news in Spartanburg closely, you’ve probably heard those numbers before and you might know what they mean. But whether you do or not, they are so remarkable and so important, the news bears repeating:


Since 2008, teen births in Spartanburg have fallen by 53 percent.


This sort of thing doesn’t just happen. There’s no magic wand. It takes focus and hard work, collaboration and investment. It takes a community coming together and it takes trust. It doesn’t happen overnight, and gimmicks don’t cut it.


All of which is why you don’t see numbers like the kind that started this article very often. Improving health outcomes — any kind of health outcome — is hard, complex work. But it’s the kind of work that is being done in Spartanburg every day, and experts across the country increasingly are taking note of it.


Of course, while recognition like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize is rewarding, it’s not why Spartanburg has rallied around improving our most vexing health and wellness issues. Rather, it’s because it’s absolutely essential if Spartanburg is going to realize its potential.


Reducing teen pregnancy and births is crucial to that goal. Teen mothers not only struggle to finish school and acquire the education and skills needed to succeed in today’s economy, their babies are born with low birth rates and associated health problems at a much higher rate than babies born to non-teen mothers.


To that end, Molly Chappell-McPhail and the work of the non-profit she directs, BirthMatters, has been making a tremendous difference. The main feature of BirthMatters is an initiative that connects trained doulas with pregnant teens early in pregnancies. The young women who are connected with a doula end up, on average, having much healthier babies, are more prepared to take care of their babies once they are born, and delay future pregnancies.


“The mothers are healthier emotionally, and then they are able to make better decisions,” Chappell-McPhail said. “They are returning to school, returning to work. This is happening because a doula is working with them.”


And the doulas themselves are a big success story.


“We use a community health worker model,” Chappell-McPhail said. “We hire and train people from underserved communities. We go to a community, provide the training, provide everything you need to do this work. We provide job skills and pay a stipend during the training, and that’s how we end up hiring people. Today we have two full-time doulas which enables us to help 40 families a year.”


If the Healthy Babies task force is chosen to receive the cash award from the Culture of Health Prize, Chappell-McPhail said they will use it to create a public awareness campaign tied to their objectives.