New partnership allocates grants to maternal and infant healthcare

Wisconsin Partnership Program grants aim to support community efforts aimed at promoting health equity among diverse populations

· Oct 4, 2022 Tweet

Abby Cima/The Badger Herald

The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health announced $1.5 million in grants that will be allocated to partnerships addressing maternal and child health disparities among rural, urban, immigrant, Latinx and Indigenous communities.

The funds will be distributed through the SMPH’s Wisconsin Partnership Program, under the maternal and child health grant division.

The WPP aims to promote health equity by targeting social determinants of health, such as where people live, work, learn or worship. Through this lens, public health takes a more community-driven approach to health and wellness, according to the WPP 2019-2024 Five-Year Plan.

An individual’s health is closely tied to social and economic factors including employment, education and support systems, according to the Wisconsin Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System 2018-2019 Surveillance Report. These factors account for 40% of an individual’s health, according to PRAMS. 

The WPP operates out of UW’s School of Medicine and Public Health. They strongly emphasize funding initiatives that provide for maternal and child health. 

Awards will be used to further existent community efforts to promote health equity through multidisciplinary channels. Grant recipients will work closely with local health organizations in order to maximize the benefits of the funding, according to the WPP grant announcement.

Roots4Change is among the 10 grant recipients throughout the state. Public Health of Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) will work in tandem with Roots4Change to appropriately allocate the funds. 

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The Roots4Change Cooperative is a Madison-based organization that offers community-based wellness services focused on maternal and infant health, according to the Roots4Change website. The cooperative works with state and local health departments, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and research outlets across the UW campus. 

WPP Program Advisor Renuka Mayadev said the need to invest in these populations is critical.

“Our greatest natural resource is our children,” Mayadev said. 

According to the UW School of Medicine and Public Health website, Roots4Change and PHMDC partnership will receive up to $150,000 over two years. 

Just like the WPP, Roots4Change and PHMDC embrace a multidisciplinary approach to public health. Roots4Change will use the grant awards to support its ongoing efforts, which include perinatal doula services, labor and lactation support, postpartum care and community worker education, Mayadev said.

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Investing in community-based projects and partnerships is the way to create change on the level that matters, according to Mayadev. 

“That trusted relationship is really important,” Mayadev said. “That’s been evidenced and researched.”

PHMDC and Roots4Change have maintained a partnership since the cooperative’s inception.

Roots4Change manager Mariela Quesada Centeno said PHMDC has the data, resources and reach to spread its message to Latinx communities. 

The grant is coming at a critical time for these communities, Centeno said. 

“The health of the unborn and pregnant people could be a thermometer for how the healthcare system functions,” Centeno said. “[The data shows that] Wisconsin is really sick.”

According to Mayadev, the infant mortality rate of Spanish-speaking children has doubled since 2015. PHMDC’s public health supervisor and Roots4Change liaison Sarah Hughes confirmed this trend. 

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Maternal and infant mortality, perinatal depression, mental health concerns and at-home instability are all on the rise within the Latinx community, according to Hughes. 

The demand for public health services from Spanish-speaking community members has increased amid the rise in challenges to maternal and child health, Hughes said. 

Statistical trends in Wisconsin and Dane County are sparking awareness of the growing challenges facing Latinx and immigrant populations. But these problems are not new,  Centeno said.

“We know that when things are showing up in the data, that means we’re already too late,” Hughes said. “Every piece of data is a life and a human and a story and a family and that all has significance.”

In addition to rising rates of mortality and poor maternal health outcomes, Centeno emphasized that Latinx patients are routinely exposed to differential and improper treatment within clinics and hospitals. 

Sixteen percent of Hispanic people who have given birth report experiencing interpersonal racism in the year preceding labor, according to the Wisconsin PRAMS report. Racial discrimination can increase blood pressure and heighten the risk of children being born with low birth weight.

Centeno said the diverse people who comprise Dane County’s Latinx community don’t have a robust system of healthcare providers equipped with the cultural and linguistic tools necessary to serve these populations. Having given birth herself, Centeno can relate to the struggles faced by this community.

“The nurses were great, but nobody spoke Spanish,” Centeno said. “I felt really lonely.”

Roots4Change is working to combat these systemic impediments by increasing resources for the maternal community of Latinx, immigrant and Indigenous families. 

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The WPP’s grant awards will specifically fund a project called Jardin de Espacios, or Garden of Spaces. Roots4Change is a “third space,” — one that is a sacred, accepting space designed to help Latinx and immigrant communities take root, according to Centeno. 

“We’re like onions, and we were transplanted into a land that only grows corn,” Centeno said. “For Roots, our work is not work. It’s a commitment, and it’s a passion covered with pain.” 

Mayadev said that past recipients of WPP grants, such as Harambee Village Doulas, who received funding in 2018, go on to make incredible contributions to their communities. 

“The importance of our communities and our vibrancy is very much dependent on the health of our mothers and birthing people and our children,” Mayadev said.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect Sarah Hughes’ position as PHMDC’s public health supervisor.

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