Whitmer wants to fight prenatal health care disparities in Flint

(L-R): Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Hamilton Community Health Network CEO Clarence Pierce discuss the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies initiative in Flint, Feb. 24, 2020 | Madeline Ciak

Flint isn’t just plagued by a water crisis. It’s also plagued by health care disparities among pregnant women belonging to minority groups — and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to do something about it.

During a news conference held at Hamilton Community Health Network in Flint on Monday, Whitmer highlighted how her “Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies” initiative part of her Fiscal Year 2021 state budget will help the community and fight health care disparities.

As the Advance first reported, the $37.5 million initiative aims to improve care women need to have a healthy pregnancy, including mental health; combatting medical bias against women of color; increasing access to effective birth control; and expanding access to evidence-based home visiting programs.

Michigan ranked 38th in the nation for infant mortality and 30th for maternal mortality in 2019.

Exclusive: 44% of Michigan maternal deaths are preventable. Whitmer has a plan for that.

Hamilton Community Health Network Chief Executive Officer Clarence Pierce said those statistics alone highlight the need for a program that addresses the infant mortality rate and low infant birth rates.

And that’s where Hamilton Community Health Network comes in. It’s part of a health care network that receives funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and aims to provide care throughout Genesee and Lapeer counties. Hamilton also provides people with access to specialized prenatal and obstetrics care, as well as adult primary medical care, behavioral health, vision, dental, family planning, immunizations for children and adults, pregnancy testing, pediatric services and pharmaceuticals.

Hamilton Community Health also has served those who suffered because of the Flint water crisis. The organization has hosted water crisis education days in the past, which brought physicians, nutritionists, food demonstrations, free nutritional food giveaways, water filter cartridges and bottled water distribution into the city of Flint. Hamilton also has a space dedicated to helpful links on how to fight the effects of lead exposure on its website.

Hamilton Community Health Network, Main Campus, Flint | Madeline Ciak

Pierce added that when the water crisis first began in Flint, the organization worked at the forefront and making sure that people, especially children, were getting the services they needed.

One of those services are the biweekly “Mommy Talks” networking sessions. The two-hour event offered expectant mothers and women who had given birth the chance to talk about barriers and issues that they might have or that they experienced during their pregnancies.

Hamilton Community Health Network Quality Improvement Manager Kim Warden said that the sessions began due to data compiled during a research project showing that children were weighing less at birth than normal and that infant deaths were going up, especially around the Flint water crisis. 

Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley, a former state House member, spoke about the disparities that people of color face in the area.

‘We have an emergency’: U.S. House panel examines Black mothers, babies dying in Michigan

Under Whitmer’s plan, the state would partner with providers and universities to address health disparities for women of color and train future doctors and nurses in implicit bias. 

As previously reported in the Advance, Dean Randolph Rasch from Michigan State University and Dr. Audrey Gregory, CEO of the Detroit Medical Center, are helping to advise the initiative.

Whitmer said she wants to improve health care outcomes in Flint and statewide.

“We want to level the playing field for people across Michigan, whether it is the education of our children, outcomes in health care or bringing down the cost of prescription drugs,” said Whitmer.