From the CEO

An Interview with NHSA Executive Director Stacey Cunningham

By Michael R. Fraser, PhD CAE Mike Fraser 

This month, Pulse focuses on Infant Mortality. Infant mortality prevention is a priority of Title V programs nationwide, and states and communities employ a variety of strategies to address this critical maternal and child health (MCH) issue. In addition to the Title V MCH Services Block Grant, the Healthy Start Initiative is another significant federal investment in infant mortality prevention. I caught up with Stacey Cunningham, Executive Director of the National Healthy Start Association (NHSA) here in Washington, DC, to talk more about the topic of infant mortality and the work of Healthy Start programs and the National Healthy Start Association.

MIKE: Stacey, thanks for being a part of this month’s issue of Pulse on infant mortality. Healthy Start is
a major player in addressing this difficult MCH problem. What do you see as some of the key ways that Healthy Start works at the local level to improve birth outcomes?

STACEY: Thanks Mike, I am so proud to be working with my fellow Healthy Start family to lead the charge on this issue. As you know, this is the 20th anniversary of Healthy Start and for the last two decades, the Initiative has made great strides in improving birth outcomes. For example, at our recent briefing on Capitol Hill we heard how the Central Hillsborough County Healthy Start had a 30 percent reduction in pre-term birth between 2002 and 2007 and how Harlem, because of the Healthy Start project, has seen a significant reduction of its infant mortality rate from 27.7 in 1990 to 6.1 in 2008. Not to mention that in 2007, 13 Healthy Start projects reported no infant deaths and 10 projects reported none in 2008 and 2009. This is fantastic news! We know that Healthy Start’s success is largely due to how closely they work with the community to receive guidance on the design of the program, ensuring that the services adequately meet the needs of the individuals being served. Healthy Start also keeps the consumer/client at the core of this work. Projects ensure that the voices of their families are heard and that they are intricately involved with the program. Thus, it is not surprising that many return to work or volunteer with the Healthy Start project as a case manager or home visitor. This is what I love most about Healthy Start, the strong commitment to involve families in the programs and services being delivered.

MIKE: That’s great news indeed, what a success and these are great examples. Now let’s talk about collaboration. What are some ways that Healthy Start programs can best connect with state Title V programs to address the issue of infant mortality?

STACEY: Addressing this problem really does take collaboration between local, state and national partners. Within states, Healthy Start programs are a key resource for state Title V directors in the states that have Healthy Start sites. Our projects and state Title V staff can partner to tailor programs that meet the needs of specific communities, which is really helpful. Although Healthy Start is in 105 communities, we know there are so many more places that need a Healthy Start but do not have one. Title V plays a vital role in addressing infant mortality and can help reach those families in these areas where there is not one. Healthy Start is a great resource on best practices and for what is working in the community and Title V is a great resource for what is happening at the state. Each should continue to tap into these networks to effectively meet the needs of families in this country. We are all striving towards a common goal of reducing infant mortality, so let’s work better together to make it happen.

MIKE: Certainly there is a tremendous opportunity for our members to work together. I think it is exciting that we share similar goals and that the work of our members is so complementary. What are some ways that you think AMCHP and NHSA can continue to work together as partners at the national level?

STACEY: Well, as you know, we do so much together here in Washington, Mike. It seems like we are always at the same meetings, aren’t we? I think that both of our organizations want to collect and share best practices and innovations that we are learning about in the states and at the community level. Collaboratively, we can share insights from programs that we support together – such as our joint Partnership to End Disparities in Infant Mortality that we work on with CityMatCH and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. We can continue to encourage our members to attend not just our national conferences, but local and state events where they can learn what is happening in MCH from each other. And as it pertains to policy and advocacy, I think we have a shared interest in assuring that both of our programs, and the others that address MCH issues, are recognized as essential and supported by Congress. I think there are lots of ways that we can work together – the joint meeting of our Executive Committees and potentially our Boards is another great way to move our shared goals forward. Both of our organizations have a commitment to improving the health and well-being of families and working together can only enhance what we are each aiming to do for states, communities, moms, dads and, of course, the children.

MIKE: I definitely agree that we have started on some great initiatives together. Stacey, thanks for all you do and on behalf of AMCHP please share our thanks with your Board and your members!

STACEY: I definitely will Mike and I truly appreciate the chance to be part of this issue. Thank you for your continued leadership in the field.