Kalamazoo Forums Focus On Infant Mortality

Aug 12, 2019

Keyshla Rivera smiles at her newborn son as registered nurse Christine Weick demonstrates a safe-sleep baby box before her discharge from Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia in 2016
Credit Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Two community groups hope to start a conversation about infant mortality in Kalamazoo County. They're holding two public forums about the link between racism and the county's high death rate for black babies.

The meetings are cosponsored by Cradle Kalamazoo. It's executive director, Dionne Bowens, says there are several causes for the big difference in mortality rates between white infants and those born to women of color.

"Some of the root causes are systematic approaches within health care and the health disparities that exist; health literacy; fragmented systems of care; lack of opportunities and access to health care; stress from poverty; and, obviously, discrimination."

The death rate for black babies in Kalamazoo County is among the highest in Michigan. That's despite a long effort to reduce it. Bowens says she hopes the forums launch a deep conversation in the community, "as well as insuring education in the community about safe-sleep practices, the importance of breastfeeding, and the overall health information that can lead to the decrease in infant mortality."

The forums are also sponsored by ISAAC, the Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community. Spokeswoman Rochelle Habeck says efforts have been underway for years to reduce the big difference in mortality rates for white and non-white infants.

"Now it's time to turn our attention to our broader community, to understand where we all fit in, and how the institutions that we're all part of can become more equitable in the ways in which we make policy, carry those out, and create community that is safe and supportive of all of our people."

The first forum on the issue begins at 6 p.m. on Monday, August 12, at Unity of Kalamazoo, 1204 Whites Road. A second forum will be held at 1 p.m. on August 22nd. Call (269) 341-4213 for more information.

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