Central Florida programs boost chances for babies of at-risk pregnant women
Gabrielle Finley | Sentinel Staff Writer | April 23, 2008
Read the original article at the Orlando Sentinel
Programs help at-risk moms-to-be, to give children a better chance.
SANFORD - Shanette Lee thought hope was around the corner.
Her life had not been easy. Brushes with the law landed her in prison for a few years.
Then a relationship in New Jersey went sour, causing Lee, 29 and three months pregnant, to head to relatives in Sanford. But things got worse, and Lee ended up at a homeless shelter, rationing the prenatal vitamins she got back in New Jersey.
"There were times where I didn't know if I was going to get anything to eat," Lee said.
She was afraid her baby would die.
She was also a walking statistic for black infant mortality.
The death rate for Seminole County's black babies is off the charts -- seven times that of white babies, said midwife Jennie Joseph."This is outrageous, and these statistics can't stand," Joseph said.
Joseph helped establish the programs Save Our Babies, in Orange County, and, more recently, Saving Our Babies in Seminole, to support women such as Lee.
Orange County's Healthy Start Coalition funds Save Our Babies. For now, Joseph uses grants to support Seminole's Saving Our Babies program.
Lee said the programs saved her son's life.
The future of these programs is in question as the Florida House deals with budget cuts during the legislative session that ends May 2.
The proposed budgets call for cutting $5 million from the $37 million budget for the Healthy Start programs that serve every county in the state. That amounts to a $300,000 cut in Orange County's program, said Linda Sutherland, Orange County Healthy Start's executive director.
That means 700 at-risk mothers in Orange will go without help, Sutherland said.
"The need grows, but the money has not followed," she said.
Finding women at risk
Joseph cited several reasons for the high rates around Central Florida:
- Lack of education about pregnancy and prenatal care.
- A confusing health-care system.
- Poor health among black women.
Outreach workers from the groups go into neighborhoods to find women at risk. They visit beauty shops, churches, laundromats, day cares and apartment complexes in areas such as Pine Hills and South Apopka in Orange County, and Goldsboro, Georgetown and Midway in Seminole.
"People trust their peers, so my program is about getting them to talk to each other," Joseph said.
On the streets, workers hand out pamphlets to black women, young or old, pregnant or not, to spread the word about black-infant mortality, said Shena McFadden, Save Our Babies coordinator.
"We are reaching out in nontraditional places. There's not many programs that do that," McFadden said.
Workers are finding women who don't know about prenatal care or don't know how to get it, outreach worker April Johnson said.
Informational baby showers are set up, and mothers get lessons on how to wade through the confusing process of obtaining Medicaid.
"We know women who are waiting months and months for their Medicaid number," Joseph said. "The fax to Tallahassee doesn't get where it needs to go; you try to reach a live person, there isn't one, or no one's answering the phone. These women need to see an OB/GYN by their first trimester, but they [doctors] are not taking you without Medicaid."
The program created direct access to doctors and officials to make the process as simple as possible, Joseph said.
Another problem is that the mother's physical condition can put the woman and baby at risk.
"It's about educating them on what it takes to be healthy prior to pregnancy," Johnson said
The Orange and Seminole programs also created a grass-roots network of "ambassadors" -- friends, husbands, boyfriends, mothers, grandmothers and anyone else women at risk trust -- who were taught about black-infant mortality and the value of pre- and postnatal care.
One baby better off
It was an ambassador who connected Lee with Saving Our Babies.
When Lee was seven months' pregnant, she felt ill and, afraid for her baby's health, went to the emergency room.
"The doctors said the baby was in danger," Lee said.
That's when she was connected with Rose Davis of Saving Our Babies, who took her in. Tondia Goynes, another program worker, helped Lee get to doctor visits.
"I don't know what would have happened if I didn't get into this program," Lee said.
"I don't know if he would have made it," she said, cradling her newborn.
Caleb Michael Lee, born April 8, was a classic example of an at-risk infant.
But instead he's a healthy baby boy, with just a touch of jaundice common to many newborns.
To donate money to the Save Our Babies and Saving Our Babies programs, call McFadden at 407-741-5243 or Joseph at 407-656-6398.
Gabrielle Finley can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5507.