SARAH VERBIEST

Looking Forward , Sarah Verbiest, founder of Every Woman Southeast, reflects on the new year and what it holds.
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It is hard to believe that the holidays are upon us! Where has the year gone? In true New Year’s Resolution style, a group of about 40 professionals from across the country convened in New Orleans for a one day meeting to set plans for preconception health for 2012. The focus of the meeting was to bring together leadership from the five different national workgroups – consumers, public health, policy/advocacy, health care professionals, and research/surveillance – to review the progress of the national campaign to date, think about issues that cut across the workgroups and to plan for the upcoming year. It was very encouraging to look at all the work that has taken place over the years – most of it completed through the work of volunteers with very limited fiscal resources. We will be posting a slide presentation that summarizes the campaign to date on our website along with meeting proceedings as soon as they are released. I think that everyone left inspired and focused – a great way to end the year. Are you interested in serving on a national workgroup? If so, please let us know!

On November 15, 2012, the Forsyth County Infant Mortality Reduction Coalition in partnership with the March of Dimes, Healthy Start Baby Love Plus Network and Forsyth Medical Center hosted a conference called Taking the Life Course Perspective to Promote Preconception Health and Health Care: Towards the Promise for Equity in Birth Outcomes. Speakers included Merry-K Moos who presented on the Life Course Perspective and Vijaya Hogan who presented on the Impact of Social Disadvantage on Preconception Health. Both speakers provided important insights on these two major schools of thought in preconception health. Dr Hogan spoke about the necessity of recognizing the intersectionality of race, gender, history and class in our work – particularly as these impact African American women. We have many challenges ahead in addressing health inequities for African American women who have five risk areas: historic, acccumulated disadvantage, current social disadvantage, structural embodiments of inequity and epigenetic risks (changes in a woman’s biology and that of her women due to impact of other risks).

In the afternoon Judy Ruffin spoke about North Carolina’s successful Peer-to-Peer Preconception Health Educator program. Two energetic and dedicated college students from Winston Salem State University shared their experiences with the program. I left convinced that our best allies in reaching young women are young women themselves! Alvina Long Valentin provided an excellent overview of North Carolina’s preconception activities and strategic plan as well as our achievements from the past few years. And I had the chance to end the conference by sharing information about Regional and National Preconception Health activities. I included information about the National Preconception Workgroups as well as work and resources from other states. As always I had a chance to showcase Every Woman Southeast and remain so encouraged at the enthusiasm people in the field, doing the work, have for our Coalition.

Sound interesting? The great people in Forsyth County have agreed to make pdfs of the speaker slides available to us. Just click here to access their presentations. I was reminded me that we have made strong progress over the past 7 years in moving preconception health forward in creative and comprehensive ways.

With my favorite holiday just a few days away, I have to say that I’m thankful that I have the chance to do this work in this time and place with amazing colleagues from across the Southeast. Thank you!

We are looking forward to our next Every Woman Southeast webinar which will focus on the postpartum visit – an important opportunity for interconception care. It seems that this is another topic of great interest in the Southeast – we have over 370 people registered! While we like to feature home grown programs, we’re reaching over to the West Coast to learn from Dr. Jeanne Conry, MD, PhD who has provided leadership to work in California where our innovative colleagues have reconsidered and improved the postpartum visit.

Why is this visit important? For many women, this may be one of their last encounters with a health care professional – for their own care – for a long time. While Health Care Reform has the potential to provide ongoing access to health coverage for all women, our current system of care leaves low income mothers without coverage once they are about 6 weeks postpartum. In our region over 12% of new mothers find themselves pregnant again within 6 months of giving birth. The risk of preterm birth increases with short birth intervals.

Interested? Please join us for the webinar on October 13th from 12-1:30 EST. You can register on our website. We will post the slides in case you miss it. You can also start a conversation on this topic – add a comment to our blog!

For the past few weeks the Every Woman Southeast Coalition’s leadership team has been working to finalize its goals, logic model and action plan. As we’ve thought deeply about what needs to happen in the Southeast to truly improve the health of mothers and babies, we agree that change will only come when we take on the hard issues. These include the social determinants of health, policy issues that impact our communities, leadership development, and racism. That’s enough to make your head swim!

But doing the business the way we always have doesn’t cut it – especially in these difficult times. The Life Course Model is a new paradigm in the field of maternal and child health that has the potential to change our practice. This model offers a new way of looking at health, not as disconnected stages (infancy, latency, adolescence, childbearing years, menopause and beyond) unrelated to each other, but as an integrated continuum. This perspective suggests that a complex interplay of biological, behavioral, psychological, social and environmental factors contribute to health outcomes across the course of a person’s life (thank you to Drs Pies, Kotelchuck, Lu and Ms Parthasarathy for the quote).

We want to figure out how to put this model into practice – here at home. Want to learn more? Check out the MCH Lifecourse Toolkit website from CityMatCH. They have excellent resources! We’ll be posting our plan just as soon as its done – we’ll be sure to let you know!

Thank you to Team Alabama for inviting me to talk about the Every Woman Southeast Coalition at their annual Perinatal Symposium in Birmingham last week. While thunderstorms kept me in the Charlotte, NC airport longer than I liked, the weather in Alabama was beautiful! At the Symposium, I was honored to follow a fantastic presentation from Rose Horton, President-Elect of AWOHNN. The presentation was the first I’ve given about EWSE since we decided to push our boundaries and commit to addressing health inequities and the social determinants of health. I think it went over pretty well. The slides are posted on our website.

I also got a glimpse at Albama’s fantastic preconception health campaign called GALS – Get a Healthy Life. Here is a link for more information http//www.adph.org/familyplanning. Seriously – a public education campaign that features shoes – fun and great information.

The Women’s Integrated Systems for Health Webinar series concluded with two excellent presentations on policy and advocacy. The slides and suggested links and resources from each of the webinars are posted on our website – under initiatives. We’re still working on getting up a few of the recorded presentations but encourage you to check them out now. The WISH program also just recorded and posted an overview presentation about the initiative and the training opportunities that will continue to be available. Next steps for WISH? Six online study modules coming January 2012.

This summer we hope to spend some time talking with partners across our 8 states to learn more about what they’re doing for preconception health. We also want to hear more about their interests in our Initiative and what we can do to help and support their work. We also want to continue to keep our website current and promote our Facebook page and blog. You have shared both with your friends – right?!

We were really happy that the National Office of the March of Dimes agreed to support our work by providing us with a small grant. With these funds we will work with graduate student extraordinaire – Rebecca Sink – to place calls, talk with people and increase our momentum and the information we have on our website. We’re also working on a logic model and grant proposals. So much for the lazy days of summer!

Interested in telling us about your work and ideas? Don’t wait! Post your thoughts and ideas.

Just back from the 3rd National Summit on Preconception Health. It was a very packed agenda with alot of great ideas and connections. I most enjoyed having a chance to see our Every Woman Southeast partners from across the eight states in person. We had an excellent breakfast meeting where we mapped out a number of next steps for partnership building, the webinar and topices we could work on together. We’ll post the slides from our presentation and the project overview we developed to our website. All of the presentations and video recorded plenary sessions will be linked to the beforeandbeyond website in a week or so. Thoughts? Ideas? Share them with us!

It is hard to believe but the 3rd National Preconception Health Summit starts this Sunday June 12th in Tampa, Florida! People attending the Summit can learn more about Every Woman Southeast and meet members of the leadership team in a number of ways. First, we’ll have a booth outside the opening session on Sunday night…and we have fun things to give away! Come get a tote bag or mousepad. On Monday morning June 13th we’ll be gathering in the breakfast area to brainstorm ideas for next steps for our work. On Tuesday June 14th we will be presenting about our Initiative in session P3 at 10:45am. All of the presentations from the Summit will be posted online. We’ll be sure to let you all know how it goes. Hope to see many of you there!

The 3rd National Preconception Health Summit is just around the corner. The agenda and registration information are posted at http://www.beforeandbeyond.org/. Check it out! I know times are tight, but the registration fee is only $175 and the current room rates are only $92. The Summit begins officially Sunday evening June 12th and finishes up at the end of the day on June 14th. In addition to excellent plenary sessions, the Summit includes alot of work sessions and many networking opportunities. Every Woman Southeast will have a display booth and will be part of a break out session panel.

I attended the 2nd National Preconception Summit in California a few years ago. I came home with a lot of new ideas. I was also impressed at the energy around the importance of working with policies, the environment, local communities, health care providers and public health leaders to support women of reproductive age in being as healthy as they can be and in planning and reaching for their goals in life. I hope to see you at the Summit in June!

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