Looking Forward , Sarah Verbiest, founder of Every Woman Southeast, reflects on the new year and what it holds.
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Friends and colleagues,

All of us have been touched by the recent violence in Newtown, CT. There has been for me, however, a sense of shared community across the nation and a true “knowing” that I’m part of something greater than myself. There is a force that unites us that is more powerful than anything else – the love we feel for our babies and children. This love and connection is transcendent – beyond politics, heavy workloads, worries about the future, the fiscal cliff… And in this season of light, it is a beacon of hope for us all as we strive so hard to make sure that we fulfil America’s promise to our smallest and most vulnerable citizens.

In this last post for 2012 we want to include an exerpt from President Obama’s Speech on December 16th in Newtown. I had the gift of listening to this speech with my teenage daughter – she reached over and held my hand. It was a beautiful moment even as these words brought me to tears as they resonnated so deeply.

As we move into the New Year, there is much to anticipate with joy and much work to do. For now, we wish you peace, time to rest and hope for what is to come.

Warmest Wishes,

Sarah Verbiest
Director – Every Woman Southeast Coalition

“You know, someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.

With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child’s very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them.

They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear. And we know we can’t do this by ourselves.

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?

Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.”  President Barack Obama

This month we’re featuring Mirine Dye, a Program Manager for Urban Health Partnerships and new member of the Every Woman Southeast Coalition.

How long have you been in your current position?

I joined Urban Health Partnerships (UHP) and our corporate arm Urban Health Solutions (UHS) in May of 2012. This EWSE grant project is my first venture with our non-profit arm, UHP.

What brought you to the organization and your current work?

The UHP Executive Director, Anamarie Garces, and I teamed up a few years ago to represent our graduate school of public health (Florida International University) in a Student Scholar Competition, which we placed third Campus wide. I then had the opportunity to put together a team to participate in the American Public Health Association Maternal Child Health Leadership Institute and felt Anamarie and I would be great team members. Our state project for Florida involved intersecting public health preparedness, epidemiology and maternal child health. We gained national recognition and remained in contact over the years. She reached out to me after forming her company and invited me to consider participating as a collaborator, and my grant funded position at the time was winding down so the timing was perfect. I came on board to assist with any projects that needed more staff, and was encouraged to seek grants in our areas of interest.

What are you most excited about for the Transportation Access Throughout the Life Course project?

I am most excited about the opportunity to creatively intersect two areas of public health, which usually do not get much attention together. Transportation and particularly active transportation (walking, biking, safe streets as well as public transportation) have been increasingly seen as not only a public health issue, but a public policy and urban planning focus. When we consider “access to care” usually the number of clinics or the number of providers and the cost is what comes to mind. We are looking at a broader view of access to care, meaning, how do women age 15-44 (and men) get to the clinics which are targeting them with reproductive and preconception care services? Miami-Dade has several areas of concern within this age group relating to reproductive health, and we want to see how do they access the services which are offered, and what improvements can be made. Are there plenty of bus routes or safe sidewalks? Are the areas shaded and comfortable for women and families in the Miami heat? What about bike routes for men and women to access the clinics easily? Are clinics and clients aware of these options? How easy is it to access information or plan your trip without a car? These are the questions we hope to answer with our project.

What do you anticipate will be the biggest challenge with this project?

I think we will have a couple of challenges; the first challenge being how can we engage our non-traditional health partners in this topic? We have reached out to our planners, engineers and transportation partners and we are at the beginning stages of the formation of the steering committee. I know we will have to sell them in the first meeting in order to ensure long-term participation and interest. The second challenge will be to create a marketing outreach campaign to translate our findings, and get the information into the hands of those who plan clinics and can influence street and transportation improvements.

Can you share any great books, articles, websites, etc, that would help people learn more about urban planning or transportation and the intersection with health?

Although I was not involved with this particular UHP project, I feel that the Broward Complete Streets Initiative was particularly influential in my recommendation to seek grant support for our Transportation Throughout the Life Course project. I would definitely recommend visiting the website which then has other resources available as well. We have also set up a website for our project, and hope to list many references to help both transportation and maternal child health groups understand the significance of taking MCH out of a silo, and inserting MCH into the bigger picture of urban health and planning:

I am currently reading Making Places Healthy: Designing and Building for Health, Well-being and Sustainability, edited by Andrew Dannenberg, Howard Frumkin and Richard Jackson, and would recommend it for a practical, yet comprehensive, systems-level look at the built environment and health.

One of our featured leaders from Alabama is Janice M. Smiley, MSN, RN, Director of the State Perinatal Program at the Alabama Department of Public Health. She took some time to talk about the Perinatal Program and to discuss some challenges and opportunities she faces in Alabama.

How long have you been in your current position? 

I have been with the Alabama Department of Public Health for 16 years. However, I have been in my current position, the Director of the State Perinatal Program, since July 2007. The mission of the State Perinatal Program is to identify and recommend strategies that will effectively decrease infant mortality and morbidity.

What is your favorite thing/task/part of your work? 

The favorite part of my job is educating and raising awareness of healthy lifestyle behaviors and their correlation to overall health and well-being. I enjoy talking with men and women men informing them that the choices they make today may play a role in their future and the future of their children, encouraging them to plan their lives and not let life just happen. I get excited when “the light goes on” they understand and began to consider some of their choices and make decisions to change their behaviors and/or to engage in better behaviors. Also, I particularly want to help them understand their family medical history and the potential of those conditions to impact their future health.

What is your biggest challenge? 

Not enough time to devote to the many tasks that are important and need my attention.

Why are you involved in Every Woman Southeast? 

I am involved because I believe that preconception and interconception health are the areas where we need to focus our attention if we are to improve the perinatal health of our nation and thus the infant mortality rate. One contributing factor to infant mortality and poor birth outcomes in Alabama is the health of the mother before and between pregnancies. The women of Region IV face many of the same problems and issues related to women’s health and wellness. Within Every Woman Southeast there are many experts, people with vast knowledge, programs, as well as projects that are going on within other states that we could learn from to improve the health of women. Every Woman Southeast provides an atmosphere for sharing and disseminating information about successful projects, lessons learned from programs, and proven strategies. Thus Every WomanSoutheast creates an environment to help each state, not reinvent the wheel, but identify and implement strategies to improve the health of women, infants, and families in the southeast.

If you had a million dollars what would you do with it? 

Provide healthcare and education to men and women with chronic conditions who want to improve their lives and health. Provide coaches for families of low social economic status to help them improve their lives and the lives of their children.

Anything else you’d like to say? 

Thank you to Sarah and her team. It is truly a pleasure to work with and learn from all the members of Every Woman Southeast.

If you’ve been reading our newsletters or following our activity for a while, you know we’re all about forming effective connections throughout the southeast. One way that most of us connect in this digital age is through the Internet, specifically social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and now Pinterest. Spreading news and information through the web is the quickest and most efficient way to communicate—but is anyone listening?

Research tells us that the majority of social media users friend someone because they know them in real life—meaning real life friendships drive online relationships. However, advertising and other things competing for our attention can get in the way of effective online connections. For example, Facebook has recently rolled out a new program that purposefully limits your reach to your friends or “fans” (depending on whether you are using Facebook as a person or a page), unless you pay a premium to promote your updates. This means that only a small fraction of your friends or followers are receiving your updates in their feeds. Now, more than ever, it’s important to spread your social media networks through many channels and to make meaningful connections throughout the Web.

So, let’s connect with each other! By “liking” and “following” each other on social media sites we’ll strengthen our brands and reinforce our inter-connection. Whether it is a personal profile or a professional one, we want to know where you’ve been spending your time on the Internet. Please fill out this short survey.

As a “thank you” for participating in the survey we’ll link to your agency’s or organization’s professional profiles (Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube) on your state’s page and we’ll reciprocally follow you back on our social networks (currently Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest—but that may change!).

Fill out the survey today! And stay tuned for the survey results – we’ll post them in our next newsletter. 

D’Ann Somerall, DNP, FNP-BC, Division Manager and Family Nurse Practitioner Program Manager at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing also took the time to talk to us about her work in Alabama and she was happy to answer our featured interview questions for Every Woman Southeast.

How long have you been in your current position? 

I have taught at the School of Nursing for 10 years, but only in this role for one month. 🙂

What is your favorite thing/task/part of your work? 

I love working with students. The Family Nurse Practitioner Program program is a distance accessible program meaning that I need to be as creative as possible to provide the learning content in a manner which will stimulate the learning for the student, since the students are physically not in the classroom to draw on the enthusiasm of the instructor.

What is your biggest challenge? 

Catching up on my emails on a daily basis; balancing work, family and fun! (I’m a bit of a workaholic).

Why are you involved in Every Woman Southeast?

My initial Master of Science in Nursing lead to an advanced degree as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. I believe a very important role that I have as a Nurse Practitioner, is to teach young women about preconception health – not just when they are ready to conceive, but what to do prior to that day in order to have a health life and a healthy baby. I volunteer with an outreach program in a low income county in Alabama where I present a program to 6th-8th graders on reproductive health and living well now, so that one day they can have healthy babies and they can have healthy lives. Every Woman Southeast is the perfect venue for me to develop connections, learn advanced information and develop partnerships in order to continue to promote preconception health with my graduate students and others.

If you had a million dollars what would you do with it? 

Take all my family members to Hawaii! After a relaxing vacation – start a free clinic for care of patients who pledge to make a change in their health by providing health care, offering pro-health classes, financial support, and babysitting services so mom’s can work!

Anything else you’d like to say?

It has been a joy to serve with this group of fantastic group! Sarah is the most organized person I have ever worked with! Her grad students are awesome!

By Kendall Gurske, Graduate Intern, UNC Center for Maternal and Infant Health
As a graduate student in both Social Work and Public Health, I’ve spent a lot of my academic career negotiating ways to bridge these two fields and become a leader in the broader arena of women’s health. Currently, an increasing emphasis on preventive care and integrated health and wellness services is shaping the national public health context, and should provide new and exciting opportunities for collaboration between these two historically partnered fields. As this new context continues to evolve, Social Work expertise on community health, safety, and welfare will become an increasingly valuable knowledge base within the field of public health.
As a result of my unique experience as a student in both of these realms, I have come to truly value the contributions that can be made to women’s health through collective action and impact. Every Woman Southeast embodies this ideal of working together not only across disciplines, but also across state lines. There is a wealth of diversity among the participants in terms of background, field of expertise, and home state. Members work for nonprofits, for government agencies; they are epidemiologists, physicians, and agency leaders.
The unfortunate reality for the southeast is that while there is a national push towards improving and increasing the availability of preventive health services for women, there is a dearth of resources and political will in our states. While our states face similar challenges, through Every Woman Southeast I’ve come to learn that they also have developed vastly different and innovative approaches to confronting them. By working together, across state lines and across disciplines, Every Woman Southeast is sharing successes in South Carolina that could be implemented to address a problem in Alabama.
My time as a graduate intern with the UNC Center for Maternal and Infant Health and Every Woman Southeast is coming to a close, and my graduation date is fast approaching. However, I know that no matter what vantage point I end up working from as a new professional, continued involvement in Every Woman Southeast will ensure that I am aware of state and regional efforts to promote preconception health, and that I have a forum to share my professional successes and challenges in the state of North Carolina. 

By Erin McClain, MA, MPH, Research Associate at the UNC Center for Maternal & Infant Health

My favorite parenting advice blogger, Magda Pecsenye, who writes the blog Ask Moxie, recently posted a response to Jessica Valenti’s book Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness and Valenti’s piece for Babble, both of which pointed out that while there is a lot of rhetoric about the importance of mothers, the job itself is not valued.
In her post “Free But Not Cheap”, Moxie reframes the argument, saying that motherhood is not a job, it’s a relationship. As the parent of two young children – one in early elementary school, one in infancy – this statement struck me like lightning! As Moxie writes: “If we think it’s a job, then nothing makes sense about it. How is it possible that it’s so important but also so undervalued?… But motherhood makes sense when you realize that it’s a relationship. Loving and nurturing your child is the relationship you have with your child. That’s why when you have a bad day as an adult, you still want your mom (if you have a good relationship with your mom) even though she isn’t making your meals, changing your clothes for you, driving you to work, or doing any of the stuff moms of kids do.”
From a public policy standpoint, Moxie goes on to say, “But we do need to make sure that the jobs associated with raising children are valued, financially and socially. We need protections for SAH [stay-at-home] parents. Protections and better wages for paid caregivers. And respect for everyone who does the jobs of raising children.” I hope you will read Moxie’s post (especially the comments!) – I would love to know if her approach resonates with you.

One of our featured leaders from Georgia is Anne L. Dunlop, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor & Preventive Medicine Residency Director at the Department of Family & Preventive Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

How long have you been in your current position?

I have been working as a public health practitioner and researcher in the field of maternal-child child and primary care since finished combined training in Family Medicine and Preventive Medicine in 2002 (ten years!).

What is your favorite thing/task/part of your work?

I love designing and delivering interventions to improve women’s health and well-being, particularly for women who otherwise have poor access to health education and behavioral services.  I really love receiving feedback (especially from the individual women but also by analyzing data from groups of women with whom we have worked) that shows that the interventions have made a difference in the lives of women!

What is your biggest challenge?

I think overcoming silos in service delivery, particularly for low-income individuals, is the biggest challenge to achieving improvements in health services and health outcomes for those most in need.   Beyond that, a huge challenge of our work is trying to achieve improved health behaviors among those with few resources or environmental facilitators of positive behavioral change.

Why are you involved in Every Woman Southeast?

I am involved in Every Woman Southeast to be inspired and motivated by passionate and committed individuals who can teach me new and better ways of accomplishing our shared mission and help me ‘sing the song when I’ve forgotten the words’.

If you were to get $1 million dollars what would you do with it?

I would invest in developing and evaluating ‘resiliency-building’ education for at-risk youth, with the goal of improving their educational and vocational attainment, family life, self-reliance and self-efficacy, and ultimately their life satisfaction and health outcomes.

Our other featured leader from Georgia is Kesha T. Clinkscale, MPA, Director of Program Services at the March of Dimes Georgia Chapter and she’s the Coordinator of the Inter-pregnancy Care-Birth Outcomes Project. She was happy to answer our featured interview questions for Every Woman Southeast.

How long have you been in your current position?

I joined the March of Dimes as director, Program Services in April, 2012. Prior to accepting this role, I spent the last 14 years serving the nonprofit sector in Georgia in a variety of fundraising, grantmaking and program management positions with organizations such as the American Cancer Society’s National Home Office, American Red Cross Biomedical Services, the Turner Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

What is your favorite thing/task/part of your work?

Listening, learning and leveraging resources in a collaborative environment to affect positive change and advance mission. 

What is your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge is the biggest challenge for all of us: reducing infant mortality.

Why are you involved in Every Woman Southeast?

I am involved with Every Woman Southeast because –  as a collective body of subject matter experts who are passionate about maternal and child health – I believe we can make a significant and positive impact towards eliminating preventable pre-term births and reducing infant mortality.

If you were to get $1 million what would you do with it?

Establish a micro-finance initiative and invest in small businesses operated by women in the African diaspora. 

Our other featured leader from Louisiana is Joan Wightkin, DrPH, Assistant Professor, Department of Community and Behavioral Health at Louisiana State University-School of Public Health and she’s the Coordinator of the Inter-pregnancy Care-Birth Outcomes Project.

How long have you been in your current position?

I’ve been the Coordinator of the Inter-pregnancy Care with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals’ Birth Outcome Initiative for one year.

What is your favorite thing/task/part of your work?

After serving as Louisiana’s Title V-Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Director for 26 years addressing the vast health needs of reproductive age women, infants and children, I enjoy focusing on one very important period of a woman’s life course: inter-pregnancy.  In the latter part of my time as MCH Director, we began to shift our women’s health focus from the prenatal period to include pre/inter-conception. My current role brings me closer to the primary care providers and Healthy Start case managers who are the backbone of our inter-pregnancy care (IPC) project. Linking primary care medical providers with Healthy Start case managers adds a strong focus on the social determinants of health.  I am also closely involved in the evaluation of our IPC project.  It’s satisfying to move from MCH system- building at the state level, to system-building in the New Orleans community where I live.

What is your biggest challenge?

Showing improvements in the physical and psychosocial health of our target population of high risk women who recently delivered a preterm or low birth weight baby through our intervention is our biggest challenge and goal.

Why are you involved in Every Woman Southeast?

It’s exciting to be connected to 8 other states that face similar challenges in addressing the health of women. Learning from those states that have had successes and documented improved outcomes is an important way to help Louisiana’s women and families.  I especially enjoy the focus on consumers and clinical practice and learning from such a dedicated group of professionals.

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