Ascension Wisconsin celebrates the impact of community churches in promoting infant health

October 16, 2019

By Karen Stokes

Speakers, faith community leaders, government leaders, and healthcare experts joined together to promote healthy babies. (Photo by Karen Stokes)

On October 9, 2019, Ascension Wisconsin hosted the 9th annual Strong Baby informational luncheon at the St. Joseph Campus, 5000 W. Chambers St., Milwaukee.

The luncheon celebrated 32 churches on becoming Strong Baby Sanctuaries, places where pregnant women and their families can learn about available community resources. Participation in church or community programs can reduce Milwaukee’s most preventable cause of infant deaths: premature births and unsafe sleeping environments.

The event, co-sponsored by Ascension Wisconsin, was scheduled a few days prior to the Sunday, October 13, 2019, Strong Baby Sabbath.

“The Ascension Strong Baby Sabbath Informational Luncheon provides Ascension, in collaboration with Mayor Tom Barrett and community health partners, the opportunity to engage the faith-based and community leaders in an informal environment to learn more about this issue. They also learn how they can support women, their families and promote healthy births,” said Penelope Stewart, Ascension community outreach coordinator.

Dr. Joan Prince, Vice Chancellor, Global Inclusion and Engagement, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and emcee of the luncheon called upon the attendees, “You have a wonderful opportunity to take things back to your congregations, your families and your friends. The work that was put into the summit is something that will definitely benefit the community.”

Prince followed with sobering statistics that each year an average of 100 infants in Milwaukee die before their first birthday and Black infants are nearly three times more likely to die than white babies. The infant mortality rate is a crisis in Wisconsin.

In 2018, of nearly 9,200 babies born in Milwaukee, 99 did not make it to their first birthday. This is a complex problem related to poverty, race, and health disparities that will take a community- wide effort to address.

Keynote Speaker, Dr. Karen Watson, Ascension Medical Group, brought attention to international statistics on infant mortality.

“Worldwide 2.5 million babies die annually before their first birthday,” she explained. “Seventy five percent of those babies will not see their first week.

Ascension Senior Vice President Bernie Sherry expressed the importance of area churches partnering with Ascension.

“When you think about health and wellness and communities flourishing and you look at traditional healthcare services we know as a community, only 20 percent has an impact through clinical healthcare.”

The collaborative efforts between the city government, healthcare and the faith community are seeking to develop an effective outcome.

“We are truly blessed to be parents and there’s nothing more wonderful,” Mayor Barrett said. “We have a problem in this city. Young women having babies need help. We’re here enlisting members of the faith community. There are literally thousands of people that you can reach that the health department can’t. We need the faith community to provide help to these young families.”

“We are asking each pastor in the audience to support the Strong Baby Sabbath on Sunday, October 13, by alerting their congregations to the alarming statistics in Milwaukee and share information on how we as a community can help more children celebrate their first birthdays,” Stewart said.

“Your purpose as a congregation, your purpose as an individual has had a profound impact,” said Sherry. “We cannot do it alone and are grateful.”