SARAH VERBIEST

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

We are an emerging partnership of community leaders, public health advocates, health care providers, policymakers, researchers, teachers, health care administrators and change agents who want to improve the health of women of reproductive age who live in the southeastern region of the United States. We live and/or work in the great states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. The Department of Health and Human Services refers to our states as Region IV. Our partnership is brand new, collaborative, transparent, cross discipline, cross issue, and cross state.

Collectively, we would like to build on our region’s history of collaboration and innovation to improve the health of our young women, mothers, babies and families. In spite of much good work, our region continues to have high rates of infant mortality, preterm birth, sexually transmitted infections, poverty, unplanned pregnancy, chronic disease, and health inequities. We are worried about the impact of the current economic crisis on our women and families. We believe that a concerted effort to bring this region together to take a fresh approach to collaboration around preconception health, maternal and child services, and women’s wellness is likely to have a greater impact here than anywhere else in the country.

The upstarts who came up with this idea over the phone one day are Lori Reeves, who is the state program director for the Florida Chapter of the March of Dimes, and Sarah Verbiest, who directs the Center for Maternal and Infant Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They were quickly joined by Merry-K Moos (N’l Preconception Steering Committee and UNC-CH), Kay Johnson (N’l Preconception Steering Committee and Johnson Group Consulting), Erin McClain (UNC Sheps Center for Health Services Research) and Julie DeClerque (Region IV Network for Data Management and Utilization Project and Sheps Center). We were lucky to be able to bring Elizabeth Jensen, former March of Dimes program staff member turned grad student, on board to help us with data collection and organization.

This initiative has just launched as of the first week of January 2010. We are in the process of collecting information about women’s wellness activities in the south, supporting the development of state teams, and planning a small regional meeting where we can come together and create a plan for our next steps. If you would like to join one of our state teams and/or the larger initiative, please email Elizabeth at ecjensen@email.unc.edu.

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