SARAH VERBIEST

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

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!

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. 

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 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.

For August we are featuring Louisiana, the most recent state to join Every Woman Southeast! We’ve asked two MCH leaders in Louisiana our interview questions and their answers reveal a lot about their passion for their work and their state. Our first featured leader from Louisiana is Rebekah Gee MD, MPH, Director of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals’ Birth Outcome Initiative. We interviewed her to find out more about her experience and interest in Every Woman Southeast.

How long have you been in your current position? 

I’ve been in this position 2 years.

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

I most enjoy partnering with the Louisiana health care leaders to improve the health of women and infants. As an obstetrician/gynecologist, I know how necessary and difficult it is to change and improve clinical practice patterns. I have been fortunate to engage the Louisiana leaders of the Department of Health and Hospitals; Louisiana Hospital Association; state Medicaid, Public Health, and Behavioral Health agencies; professional medical associations; and community-based organizations. Working together, both public and private entities, we are solving some of Louisiana’s most persistent barriers to improving birth outcomes.

What is your biggest challenge? 

Louisiana has among the highest rates of poverty and social inequity, and lowest rates of educational attainment. That makes our work that much more important.

Why are you involved in Every Woman Southeast? 

I want to learn from the other states and help diffuse innovation.

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

I would extend the work of Louisiana’s Birth Outcomes Initiative for another year in order to fully institutionalize our projects focused on 1) Safety and Quality Improvement in Birthing Hospitals, 2) Pre/Interconception Care, 3) Prenatal Behavioral Health Screening/Treatment, 4) Ending Non-Medically Indicated Deliveries Prior to 39 Weeks Gestation, and 5) Louisiana Report Card for Maternity and NICU Care.

This July we’re featuring the Bluegrass state: Kentucky! We’ve asked three MCH leaders in Kentucky our interview questions and their answers reveal a lot about their passion for their work and their state. Our first featured leader is Emily Adkins, RN, Nurse Consultant for Family Planning and Preconception Health at the Division of Women’s Health, Department for Public Health, Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

How long have you been in your current position?   

I joined the Kentucky Division of Women’s Health two years ago (in March of 2010) in my current role as nurse consultant for the Family Planning Program, as well as the Preconception Care and Folic Acid Programs.

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

I enjoy opportunities to interact with and educate the public about Preconception Care (including Family Planning and Folic Acid Supplementation) through health fairs and other venues. I feel a great sense of satisfaction when I get a phone call from someone looking for information and resources and I am able to assist them getting the help they need in their community.

What is your biggest challenge? 

As I am sure it is with everyone, time and funding are the biggest challenges. Trying best to determine how to use the time and resources available is a daunting task.

Why are you involved in/interested in Every Woman Southeast? 

I am proud to be a southern woman. I truly believe women are the heart of our communities and the health and well being of each woman is vital to the health and well being of our communities. I think we can make the biggest difference in the overall health of our children and neighborhoods by starting with the women who are the core of the families within our region.

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

I really wish I had a good answer, or at least a witty response – but I don’t. I am more aware than ever that money does not go as far as it seems it should. I definitely feel the money would be best used to educate all Kentuckians about the importance of women’s health and steps to take to achieve and maintain it.

Another featured leader from Kentucky is Susan Holland Brown, Kentucky’s Statewide Folic Acid Campaign Coordinator, Registered Nurse, Childbirth Educator, Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Grief Counselor, MCH Nurse Consultant, & Co-Author Kentucky Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait Toolkit. We interviewed her to find out more about her experience and interest in Every Woman Southeast.

How long have you been in your current position?

Twenty-two years in public health as an MCH nurse, childbirth educator, lactation consultant, and grief counselor; and 12 years as Kentucky’s Statewide Folic Acid Campaign Coordinator for the Kentucky’s Folic Acid Partnership (KFAP).

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

I like that all of my jobs revolve around women and the families they nurture.

What is your biggest challenge?

As a nurse and public health professional I’m used to multitasking and juggling priorities but in recent years TIME is what I really miss! Like everyone there’s always too much to do and too little time to do it in… and never any down time to catch up, but friends call that job security and I call it LIFE!  

Why are you involved in/interested in Every Woman Southeast?

I spent 10 years of my nursing career working OB at Salem Hospital in Salem Oregon where I saw childbearing-aged women living a different culture than the women in the Southeast were living at the time. Everyone gave birth naturally with only a few exceptions of those women who truly needed a cesarean birth and of those who did—most gave birth via VBAC the next time around; and everyone breastfed their babies! I learned so much from that positive environment and with my youngest two daughters being born there I got to experience firsthand just how incredible and empowering natural birth can be. It was a life-changing experience that I have never forgotten and I wish women in the Southeast could experience that same type of environment!

If you had a million dollars what would you do with it? (Besides move to the mountains or beach and retire).

I’ve always said in my childbirth classes that if I ever won the lottery I would use the money to go around and bribe all the OBs to not tell women in the early stages of labor that they were in labor because of the way it affects their whole mindset when they hear those words—suddenly feeling each and every twinge when previously they were just fine and would probably have sped right through those 8 hours of early labor without skipping a beat, had nothing been said! Of course, everyone always laughs but there is sincerity in my desire. Why don’t we pay more attention to how our words and actions affect women and their pregnancy outcomes?

A native of Campbellsville, Kentucky, Connie Gayle White M.D. is a Clinical Professor in the Department for Health Behavior at the College of Public Health, University of Kentucky. She serves as a Women’s Health Consultant to the Kentucky Department of Public Health, the Kentucky Cancer Consortium and the Kentucky Maternal Child Health Institute at the University. Her teaching responsibilities involve classes in the MCHI and UK College of Medicine. She is the former Director of the Division of Women’s Health in the Department for Public Health. Prior to coming to the Division of Women’s Health Dr. White had been a practicing obstetrician/gynecologist for over 20 years in Frankfort, Kentucky. She is a graduate of Kentucky Wesleyan College with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. She received a Master of Science in Toxicology and worked as a researcher in Teratology at the National Center for Toxicological Research in Little Rock, Arkansas. She later attended medical school at the University of Kentucky. She completed her OB-GYN residency program at the University of Louisville. She is board certified in OB/GYN by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. A special emphasis of her work was patient education and preventive medical care.

Connie was happy to answer a few questions about her work and why she is involved with Every Woman Southeast.

How long have you been in your current position? 

I practiced medicine for 20 years (OB/GYN) in Frankfort, KY before coming into Public Health. When I joined EWSE I was the Director of the Division of Women’s Health for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. This involved the Title X program, teen pregnancy prevention and the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program. After two years, I moved to my current position as a Clinical Professor in the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky for the past year. I have the independence to participate in projects that relate to women’s health: Cervical Cancer-Free Kentucky, Kentucky Cancer Consortium, co-teaching classes and working as a Women’s Health Consultant with the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

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

Instead of dealing with women’s health issues on a one-on-one basis with an individual patient as I did in my medical practice, I now feel my work reaches across the Commonwealth to all Kentucky women. Not being limited to a defined job description, I can pick the projects that interest me and be flexible for my family (after 20 years of clinical medicine, they deserve that!).

What is your biggest challenge? 

Pacing myself to not take on too many projects so I can do my job completely and to my own personal high standards.

Why are you involved in/interested in Every Woman Southeast? 

I find the idea of pooling our best thoughts and actions to allow each state to ‘borrow shamelessly’ from each other will allow better things to happen in our Region IV. Our data shows, and I saw firsthand in clinical practice, the misery of short intraconception time, repeat high risk pregnancies and the total lack of a reproductive life plan (mainly because they didn’t understand they had that right!).

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

Fund some of the desperately needy non-profits that I work with that provide critical needs for patients that fall through the cracks of our society (i.e. summer camp for children/siblings with cancer, navigation system that just provided a soft mattress for a Stage IV breast cancer patient that asked to die in comfort, etc.). I would also provide myself all the yarn I needed to knit up all the community/church projects that I want to share with others!

Another one of our featured leaders from Mississippi is Juanita Graham, DNPc, MSN, RN, FRSPH. She is the Health Services Chief Nurse for the Mississippi State Department of Health. She serves in a nurse consultant role to the seven offices of Health Services and participates in a variety of activities including grant writing, continuing education for nurses, and research. She is currently a full time doctoral student at the University of Mississippi. Juanita has a significant leadership background representing several organizations. She has given dozens of presentations at the local, state, national, and international levels. She has published multiple infant mortality-related research articles. Her current research interests include assessing the relationship between maternal health and Mississippi birth outcomes. Juanita shared her thoughts about her work and why she is involved with Every Woman Southeast.

How long have you been in your current position?

I’ve served as Health Services Chief Nurse for the Mississippi State Department of Health since 2005. Only in the past few months my title has changed to Director, Program Development and Effectiveness.

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

I really enjoy networking opportunities and working with other groups and partners at local, state, regional, and national levels who are interested in improving the health and welfare of families in the Southeastern U.S.

What is your biggest challenge?

Funding has always been the biggest challenge for Mississippi.

Why are you involved in Every Woman Southeast?

I’m very interested in improving Mississippi birth outcomes and reducing Mississippi infant mortality. Besides having several good friends from neighboring states who work with EWSE, I feel that improving the health of Mississippi infants begins with improving the health of women and participating in EWSE is one way to accomplish that.

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

I believe that education and health literacy among Mississippians must be addressed if Mississippi is ever going to pull ourselves up from being the negative benchmark or worst case scenario to which other states compare themselves and measure progress. If I had a million dollars, I would devote it towards peer-based train-the-trainer health education and health literacy programs. $1 million is not nearly enough to solve Mississippi’s problems but if “each one could teach one”, perhaps we could improve some of our stats and indicators.

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