Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin loses major federal infant mortality grant

October 1, 2014

Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, Inc. (BHCW) will discontinue operating its Milwaukee Healthy Beginnings Project (MHBP) as of January 31, 2015 due to the non-renewal of its federal National Healthy Start Initiative- Eliminating Racial/ Ethnic Disparities Program grant totaling $750,000 annually. BHCW’s grant application for the National Healthy Start Initiative’s Eliminating Disparities in Perinatal Health application was approved, but not funded. If BHCW had received the grant, there still would have been a $150,000 reduction from its current MHBP grant budget of $900,000. “At a time when Milwaukee needs additional resources to tackle the complex and important issue of infant mortality,”
stated Mayor Tom Barrett, “the loss of this funding is a significant setback to the efforts to ensure that more infants are born healthy and live to celebrate their first birthdays.” MHBP offered an array of services and programs including outreach and enrollment; targeted prenatal and interconceptional case management, fatherhood case management and peer community education, health education, mental health services, domestic violence services, AODA services, breastfeeding education and support, the Milwaukee African American Infant Mortality Task Force and community forums. MHBP also had a strong level of collaboration with other agencies and made referrals to them for prenatal
care, infant and child health care, nutrition education, immunizations, housing, etc. BHCW has successfully managed the MHBP since 1998. This National Healthy Start Initiative grant is awarded through a competitive process every five years, with annual renewal applications. This loss was for the 2014 competitive cycle. The current full grant was initially schedule to end May 31, 2014 but was extended, along with the other 105 Healthy Start sites across the country, until August 31, 2014. Now with the news of the non-award, BHCW will be able to continue its operation of the project until January 31, 2015 thanks to the judicious management of the MHBP project funds for almost 20 years. BHCW will continue to work with the current MHBP clients, but will no longer be taking new referrals. “I am totally stunned by our loss of these funds,” stated Dr. Patricia McManus, President/CEO of Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin. “In a city such as Milwaukee where the Black/ White infant mortality disparities continues to widen,” McManus continued, “losing this vital resource will no doubt worsen the status of infant health in our community.” MHBP was the only culturally specific community based program in Milwaukee that was addressing the issue of infant mortality and poor birth outcomes with documented success. “Reducing Milwaukee’s overall infant mortality rates and the troubling racial disparities in birth outcomes requires a broad collaboration of partners,” added Mayor Barrett. “African American infants in Milwaukee are three times more likely to die before their first birthdays than white infants, and Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin’s work has been key to the communitywide response needed to improve birth outcomes.” Unfortunately, there were other long-standing high performance programs in cities with high infant mortality disparities like BHCW that did not get renewal funding either. BHCW was one of two agencies in Wisconsin that had received this grant. The other Wisconsin organization, Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Agency, did not receive a new competitive grant award for their Honoring Our Children Project. MHBP provided comprehensive culturally respectful services to 500-750 pregnant and interconceptional women, infants, children and families annually. The clients are often the most vulnerable in the community, having overall complex medical and social conditions. Through the years BHCW has worked to stabilize their clients. This work has helped to prevent low-birth weight births and infant deaths for thousands of families. Unlike other programs that work with pregnant women, BHCW doesn’t turn clients away. The other programs, considered evidence-based programs, tend to work with the ‘cream of the crop’ clients; clients who are experiencing their first pregnancy, are in their first trimester, have stable homes, etc. MHBP, on the other hand, works with incarcerated pregnant women, homeless women, women who make first contact with BHCW during their second and third trimesters, families who have open child welfare cases, and other complex issues. The Healthy Start funding makes up a substantial percentage of BHCW’s operational budget. “This funding loss will necessitate restructuring of our organization,” Dr. McManus expressed. “There are still pressing health needs in our community, our structure may change, we may struggle a little, but we will still continue to be here to be a voice for the voiceless.”