Category: MCH Stories

Messages from Rebecca Shlafer, Warrior of the Minnesota Prison Doula Project

On September 27th Dr. Rebecca Shlafer, an Assistant Professor in the Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health at the University of Minnesota, came to UIC to discuss her work implementing a prison doula project. Her lecture discussed the crucial nature of implementing policies that humanize incarcerated pregnant women throughout their pregnancy journeys. She discussed that prior to the implementation of this doula program in Minnesota, they lacked the resources and knowledge necessary to provide incarcerated pregnant women with what they needed to maintain their own health/the health of their babies. As Dr. Shlafer stated, the population of women in prison who are pregnant are a vulnerable group, potentially facing environmental risks, physical health issues, and issues related to mental health and substance misuse which in turn can lead to poor perinatal outcomes such as preterm and small for gestational age infants.1 Thus, focus on interventions that promote their health and well-being is of particular interest for public health professionals thinking in terms of lifecourse models. The long term health outcomes of these babies are dependent on both the prenatal and postnatal care that these women receive, as well as their ability to form important attachments with their babies early on.

The Minnesota Prison Doula Project implemented two core components into their programming: 1) a new moms informational group, and 2) one-on-one doula supports for all pregnant women in the prison. These components are meant to provide these mothers with the resources that they need to have a healthy and successful pregnancy, and to learn the skills necessary to form positive relationships with their babies. Dr. Shlafer mentioned that the doulas also provide emotional and social support to the woman post pregnancy when they are separated from their babies. They help the mothers establish healthy coping skills in this incredibly difficult separation process.

Doula support during childbirth is associated with better health outcomes for both the mother and the baby, including better APGAR scores, shorter first stage of labor, less medical interventions required during labor/delivery, and decreased c-sections.2 Doulas are not only helpful before, during, and directly after pregnancy, but they are also key players throughout the weeks postpartum in supporting the mother and baby in activities such as breastfeeding and forming healthy relationships. A key component of forming positive relationships between mother and baby is skin to skin contact. The benefits of skin to skin contact between mother and baby are invaluable: it helps to calm the baby by reducing stress levels in both mother and baby; it helps the mother’s milk to flow more easily; it boosts the baby’s immune system; it builds important neural connections in the baby’s brain via the smells, textures, and sounds that the baby experiences; it lowers the mother’s risk of a postpartum mood disorder; and ultimately it creates lasting connections and strong attachments between the mother and baby.3

This seemingly simple concept is something that can prove extremely challenging for women in prison. Many do not have access to their babies postpartum, as they are entered back into prison after their 48 hour stay in the hospital. This leaves them only their occasional visitations with family to have any human contact with their babies. This crucial issue proposes important next steps for groups that work with these vulnerable women. The implementation of doulas in state prisons is extremely beneficial, and the data show that it improves birthing outcomes. But what comes next? How can we support new mothers who are still in prison to have successful and positive relationships with their newborns? This falls heavily on policy, advocacy, and compassion stemming from the multidisciplinary team that works to promote the health outcomes of these women and children. Our work here is not done and this is of importance considering over the last two decades the number of women in prison in the US has dramatically increased and approximately 76% of incarcerated women are of childbearing age.4

Which leads me to a powerful quote from Dr. Shlafer’s presentation: “Research without advocacy is just a dusty journal on someone’s shelf. Advocacy without research is just a temper tantrum.”5

References:

1 Shlafer, R. J., Hellerstedt, W. L., Secor-Turner, M., Gerrity, E. and Baker, R. (2015), Doulas’ Perspectives about Providing Support to Incarcerated Women: A Feasibility Study. Public Health Nurs, 32: 316–326. doi:10.1111/phn.12137

2 BOlBOl-haGhiGhi, N., MaSOuMi, S. Z., & KaZeMi, F. (2016). Effect of Continued Support of Midwifery Students in Labour on the Childbirth and Labour Consequences: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR, 10(9), QC14.

3 Breastmilk, Every Ounce Counts. Retrieved from http://www.breastmilkcounts.com/breastfeeding-101/skin-to-skin/

4 Shlafer, R. J., Hellerstedt, W. L., Secor-Turner, M., Gerrity, E. and Baker, R. (2015), Doulas’ Perspectives about Providing Support to Incarcerated Women: A Feasibility Study. Public Health Nurs, 32: 316–326. doi:10.1111/phn.12137

5 Shlafer, R. (2017). Pregnant and parenting among incarcerated women: from research to advocacy. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved on September 27 2017.


Mesothelioma, A Lifecourse Perspective

By: Emily Walsh, in collaboration with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, and Amanda Wojan

Exposure to environmental toxins and the subsequent disease exposure can lead to lifelong complications and issues. While people are more commonly aware of the threat of carbon monoxide or lead, asbestos is a toxin that is very much present in daily life and has the potential to be vastly more dangerous. Widespread use in the past century means that existing asbestos can be readily found in homes, schools, and spaces, both across the United States and globally. A known human carcinogen, asbestos has been proven to cause several illnesses including asbestos cancer, more widely known as mesothelioma, which develops in the linings of organs. The most common type of this rare cancer is pleural mesothelioma affecting the lungs, however it can also present in the abdomen and around the heart.7

The risk of exposure to environmental toxins is inequitably distributed and most impacts marginalized communities. Studies have noted that communities that are low-resourced, with higher populations of people of color are more vulnerable to these exposures.1-5 Unfortunately, these communities are also not positioned to adequately address the source of these toxins. Having fewer economic resources can lead people to live in substandard housing conditions, where toxins such as mold and asbestos are present.6 This is a clear example of how social factors can work to determine one’s health outcomes. Because of the unjust and unequal distribution of these exposures, rectifying and addressing this inequity should be a public health priority.

Heather Von St. James is an 11-year survivor, receiving her diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma just over three months after giving birth to her daughter. She was exposed to asbestos as a child, wearing her father’s work coat while doing her outdoor chores everyday. Asbestos fibers were in the dust caked into the fabric from his construction job, and she unknowingly breathed them in as she wore the coat. This exposure eventually led to her diagnosis with this aggressive, rare cancer at the age of 36.

One of the dangers of this cancer, as well as other asbestos-related diseases, is that it can take anywhere from 10-50 years after exposure to develop. This long delay of symptoms, coupled with their general nature, can make it easy to receive misdiagnoses at first. As such, patients are often faced with a poor prognosis and limited treatment options. Heather faced a prognosis of just 15 months to live without treatment. However, an intensive, experimental surgery that removed her left lung, two ribs, half her diaphragm, and the lining of her lung and heart, followed with chemotherapy and radiation, meant that she outlived her best-case prognosis of ten years and is still celebrating her health today.

Heather’s story illustrates a powerful point about life-cycle illnesses in that they do not always have to be chronic, yet they can touch every stage of the life course. While her exposure occurred as a child, her cancer developed years later and her life was irrevocably changed by her diagnosis. Physically, Heather must live with one lung and faces limits on her activity. She had to give up her career, and she faces lifelong anxiety around her bi-annual scans. Her cancer journey will follow her throughout her entire life.
Heather has taken this experience and channeled it into her passion and calling as an advocate. She now works to support the mesothelioma community by connecting with patients, educating people about what mesothelioma is, and spreading awareness about rare cancers. Speaking from experience, she also lends her voice in Washington D.C., often working to advocate for legislation that supports a full and final ban on the use of asbestos in the United States.

Mesothelioma Awareness Day is September 26th and it serves as an ideal opportunity to call attention to the education, awareness and support this community and cause needs.
To learn more about pleural mesothelioma, check out this website: https://www.mesothelioma.com/mesothelioma/types/pleural.htm

References:
1 Sampson, R. J., & Winter, A. S. (2016). The racial ecology of lead poisoning: Toxic inequality in Chicago neighborhoods, 1995-2013. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 13(2), 261-283.
2 Moody, H. A., Darden, J. T., & Pigozzi, B. W. (2016). The relationship of neighborhood socioeconomic differences and racial residential segregation to childhood blood lead levels in Metropolitan Detroit. Journal of Urban Health, 93(5), 820-839.
3 Berg, K., Kuhn, S., & Van Dyke, M. (2017). Spatial surveillance of childhood lead exposure in a targeted screening state: an application of generalized additive models in Denver, Colorado. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 23, S79-S92.
4 Winter, A. S., & Sampson, R. J. (2017). From Lead Exposure in Early Childhood to Adolescent Health: A Chicago Birth Cohort. American Journal of Public Health, 107(9), 1496-1501.
5 Hao, H., Chang, H. H., Holmes, H. A., Mulholland, J. A., Klein, M., Darrow, L. A., & Strickland, M. J. (2016). Air pollution and preterm birth in the US State of Georgia (2002–2006): associations with concentrations of 11 ambient air pollutants estimated by combining Community Multiscale Air Quality Model (CMAQ) simulations with stationary monitor measurements. Environmental health perspectives, 124(6), 875.
6 Evans, G. W., & Kantrowitz, E. (2002). Socioeconomic status and health: the potential role of environmental risk exposure. Annual review of public health, 23(1), 303-331.
7 https://www.mesothelioma.com/mesothelioma/types/pleural.htm


The Fight Against Severe Maternal Morbidity in Brooklyn: Video

By: Janet Murphy from City Limits

Statistically speaking, during the time you’re watching the video segment below, three new New Yorkers will be born somewhere in the city—three of the 120,000 or so births that occur here in a typical year. Most of those babies and their mothers get through the process in good health. But some moms end up very sick. That’s a problem called severe maternal morbidity — and it has been getting worse.

From 2008 to 2012, it shot up 28 percent in New York. And city statistics indicate race, poverty, age, access to healthcare and even whether a patient really wanted to have a baby all have dramatic effects on the risks different women face. Neighborhoods also matter: Central Brooklyn is the epicenter of SMM in New York City.

Reducing maternal morbidity is a goal of city health officials educators and providers. On Thursday’s BkLive, I was joined by Dr. Deborah Kaplan, the Assistant Commissioner for the Bureau of Maternal, Infant and Reproductive Health at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and Dr. Monica Sweeney, a Clinical Professor at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, where she is Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management and the Vice Dean for Global Engagement.

The effort to fight maternal morbidity is part of the effort to reduce the more serious, if smaller, problem of maternal mortality. The U.S. has one of the worst rates of maternal mortality in the developed world, and it has edged higher in recent years. Every year, New York hospitals lose around three dozens mothers. The impact of such a death, as Sweeney notes in the video, is broad and devastating.

View the video below:

To read the full article and more articles from City Limit, please click here.


CDC’s Millennial Health Summit to End Health Disparities

Kera (CoE in MCH Student) with others at the summitAs a public health nerd, who follows the Center for Disease Control and Prevention with as much love and fervor as National Football League fans, I was excited to notice a flyer posted on campus about a free conference at the CDC. The Millennial Health Leaders Summit is a two day intensive training for graduate and medical students to network, learn, and explore case studies about addressing health disparities. My heart dropped when I read that only two representatives would be chosen to attend. “What are the odds that a first year master’s student would be selected?” I thought disparagingly. The application was simple: in 300 words or less answer “What will be the most important public health issue confronting communities that experience health disparities in 2025? What will you be doing in 2025 to address and reduce these disparities?” I wrote my essay in a caffeinated stream of conscience. My deep-seated anger at the smear campaign on Planned Parenthood and the ongoing war in America to limit women’s access to reproductive healthcare finally had an outlet. The essay I constructed is without a doubt my personal manifesto.

One month later I forwarded an email with the subject line of “Congratulations on your acceptance to the Millennial Health Summit” to my adviser with my own addition on the top in all capitals that simply stated, “I GOT IT” followed with six exclamation marks.

I attended the Millennial Health Summit just three months later. I met several Maternal and Child Health majors from across the country. We compared classes, professors, and how our programs were set up. It was a fantastic networking opportunity with the students and presenters from around the country. I learned so much from this conference but here are my top three takeaways from the Summit:

  • Cross Collaboration is key. There was an urban planner who pointed out all of the ways that the poor planning of our cities creates obesity. One cannot fight obesity with just education. We have to work with urban planners, architects, and the department of transportation to create environmental change. He also pointed out if you can partner with the department of transportation to create more bike lanes or parks you have made your city healthier without even touching your public health budget!
  • Advocacy requires both qualitative and quantitative data. Paula “Tran” Inzeo from Family Living Programs, a health promotion specialist from Wisconsin conducted a breakout session, stating “you can have the data, but it is real people’s stories and voices that have the power to move mountains. The example was in their advocacy work to open alternative court systems in Wisconsin. They had all the facts and figures detailing how mass incarceration was a problem in Wisconsin; however, it was the voice of a veteran who had been helped directly by a substance abuse court that helped him get his life back on track with alternative sentencing of mandatory substance abuse treatment and community service rather than jail time.
  • I learned so much through the process of getting there. This is my biggest word of advice to master’s students- apply and try. Just try. I really did not think that I would be selected and even if I had not my 300 word essay is by far the piece of writing from my graduate career. I submitted it as my sample writing for several job applications that I was subsequently offered. More importantly it provided me with an opportunity to think beyond graduate school. It made me stop and think about what issue is most important to me, what aspect of that work do I want to be doing, and what position do I want to host in ten years. Once you think deeply about your priorities you can be selective with your time and energy. You can draft a plan of attack on how to get to your dream job. I highly recommend anyone of any profession to do this writing exercise for their professional development.

Written by Kera Beskin, MPH Candidate 2017 


Women’s Pelvic Health 101

As women, sometimes it feels like the only time we acknowledge our pelvic region is when we’re talking about having babies. But how much do we really know about our pelvic health; about what is going on “below our belts”?

If you’re like me and many other American women, the answer probably is “not much”. Pelvic health gets a bad rap because it’s at the center of stigmatized topics like elimination (pooping and peeing), sexual health, and reproduction. Stigma makes us uncomfortable and when we’re uncomfortable we tend to avoid whatever it was that made us feel that way. Unfortunately, however, not talking about a critical part of our health leaves us in the dark about our bodies and this lack of knowledge can negatively impact our well-being and prevent us from seeking the support and information we need.

One person who isn’t afraid to talk about women’s pelvic health is Missy Lavender and the wonderful team at the Women’s Health Foundation (WHF). WHF is a non-profit organization committed to improving women’s pelvic health and wellness by driving cutting edge research initiatives, developing and offering community based education and fitness programs, fostering conversation and creating communities for women, serving as a national resource on pelvic wellness issues. Their goal is to turn the conversation of pelvic health from a sisterhood of silence to a sisterhood of strength where women feel connected to their bodies and are empowered to live fuller, richer lives. WHF is Chicago-based but are currently leading the charge nationally on women’s pelvic health and wellness. They host educational events, wrote a pelvic health book for teenage girls (Below Your Belt: How to be Queen of Your Pelvic Region), update an amazing community blog with tons of pelvic health information and news, in addition to countless other efforts and initiatives. Their website is a goldmine for all things pelvic health. After spending a lot of time with the Below Your Belt book and WHF resources, we’ve compiled a list of some pelvic health basics to get you familiar with what’s going on “below your belt”:

  • Our pelvic region includes our pelvic bones, pelvic floor, abdominal and back muscles, and digestive, elimination, and reproductive organs. All of these muscles, bones, and organs are essential for physical and reproductive wellness, sexual satisfaction, and healthy digestion.1
  • Proper peeing behaviors can keep your bladder, vagina, and pelvic floor healthier for longer. Here are some important reminders:
    • Always wipe from front to back to prevent spreading bacteria. 1
    • For optimal elimination (pooping/peeing), it is important to relax your pelvic floor muscles, so when you go to the bathroom, make sure you sit all the way down1
    • Rocking from side to side on your tailbone will help relax your pelvic floor and empty all the urine from your bladder. 1
    • Only go to the bathroom when you really have to go1
    • Always drink plenty of water. 1
  • There are a lot of different things that influence our pooping behavior. Here are some tips to help keep you ‘regular’:
    • Eating fiber helps with healthy digestion. A good rule of thumb for how many grams of fiber to get each day is: 10 grams of fiber + your age = # grams of fiber you should eat per day. 1
    • Squatting or using a Squatty Potty is the optimal position for pooping because the squatting position is known to relax the pelvic floor, therefore requiring less pressure and strain and making elimination easier. 1
    • Body movement = bowel movement1 Increased physical activity is known to increase regularity.
    • Always drink plenty of water1
  • When it comes to feminine hygiene, avoid vagina spray. 1 Your vagina is like a self-cleaning oven, so all you need to keep things clean is some warm water.1

This post only covers a small amount of what pelvic health is, but we hope it sparks your interest in this essential subject. To learn more about the WHF and pelvic health check out the WHF website and community blog.

Website: http://womenshealthfoundation.org

Community Blog: http://womenshealthfoundation.org/category/blog/

If you’re interested in teaching your daughter, sister, cousins, or anyone you love about pelvic health, be sure to check out the Below Your Belt book.

http://womenshealthfoundation.org/below-your-belt/

If you’re interested in the Squatty Potty or purchasing a Squatty Potty, check out their website:

http://www.squattypotty.com/

Written by Michelle Chavdar, Research Assistant and UIC MPH Candidate

________________

References

1Lavender, M., & Donatelli Ihm, J. (2015). In Elizabeth Wood (Ed.), Below your belt: How to be queen of your pelvic region. Chicago, IL: Women’s Health Foundation.


Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units: Creating a Better Environment for Children

PEHSU LogoFor the past 15 years, Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs) have been advocating in communities around the country to educate people about children’s environmental health.  As a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) these centers employ health care professionals who are devoted to informing and assisting communities in understanding the role that the environment plays in childhood health outcomes. PEHSUs are committed to protecting this vulnerable age group from the harmful effects of environmental hazards and toxic substances, with a focus on reproductive health in an effort to prevent the detrimental effects of certain exposures very early in development.

The Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is one of the PEHSUs that is responsible for providing services to Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin (Region 5) along with a unit in Cincinnati, Ohio . The UIC center strives to:

  • Work with communities and parents to teach, support, and interpret results of environmental hazards
  • Provide clinical services for children with environmental health issues
  • Provide technical assistance to public health and environmental agencies on children’s environmental health issues
  • Train pediatricians, environmental and occupational medicine physicians, medical toxicologists, and other health professionals about children’s environmental health
  • Conduct research that helps prevent children’s environmental diseases

The center is under the direction of Dr. Susan Buchanan who focuses on environmental and occupational medicine, and is a Clinical Associate Professor as well as the Director of the Occupational Medicine Residency Program at UIC. Besides pediatric and reproductive environmental health, her research interests include health outcomes of minority, low-income, and immigrant workers. The center is also staffed by a variety of health care professionals including environmental/occupational physicians, pediatric/family physicians, medical toxicologists, pediatric health nurses, and industrial hygienists. The center recently added a reproductive health care professional which has greatly improved the outreach to pregnant women who are at risk for environmental exposures negatively affecting their unborn children.

The staff educates and consults with communities and parents on a wide variety of topics, including climate change, second-hand tobacco smoke, air/water/soil contamination, heavy metal exposures, pollutants, allergens, and pesticides, among many more. Annually, the center reaches 6000-7000 attendees at 75-100 presentations with additional consultation through 150-200 individual phone calls. Through their work they are creating a better environment for young children and their communities.

For more information about the Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health at UIC you can visit their website at http://www.uic.edu/sph/glakes/childrenshealth/.


The Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Program at UIC

Group photo of LEND students 2015

The Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program is a nationally-acclaimed interdisciplinary training program funded through the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) that provides professional students with the tools to address disability within a larger context of health care. There are 43 programs at institutions across 37 states, including one at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), that aim to train like-minded individuals from a variety of fields to work with a range of disabilities, ultimately improving the lives of infants, children, and adolescents.

The LEND program at UIC is a highly intensive one-year training program that incorporates didactic learning as well as hands-on experience. Pulling professional students from a range of disciplines (i.e. public health, social work, medicine, etc.), the program meets once a week for a three-hour lecture that is often supplemented by panel discussions involving community members, past LEND trainees, and children and families with special needs. Further requirements include a clinical session every two weeks led by a developmental pediatrician, 300 hours of research or leadership experience, and a final capstone project providing data to be disseminated to the community. LEND also funds each student to go to one conference during the course of the year.

Two UIC MCH students, Alexandra Ibrahim and Tina Schuh, were accepted into the program this year and shared what inspired them to participate in the LEND program.

Alexandra Ibrahim is a second-year Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Epidemiology student. She was inspired to apply to the LEND program after a presentation by Dr. Kruti Acharya, the Director of LEND at UIC, in the CHSC 511 course last spring. When she worked as a teacher before entering graduate school, she assisted children with various special needs and recognized the gaps in the system that provided these students with the necessary individualized services and support. In her experiences working directly with children with special needs, including a sibling on the Autism spectrum, she became especially interested in working with individuals with disabilities and felt that the LEND program would enhance her career goals in public health, specifically in using epidemiologic data to better inform policy and advocacy to the lives of people with disabilities.

Tina Schuh is a second-year MCH student, who heard the same presentation by Dr. Acharya in CHSC 511, inspiring her to apply to the LEND program at UIC. Tina previously worked for the Peace Corps in Morocco as a Health Educator, and also was the Director of a Boys and Girls Club for two years at an elementary school, where she witnessed similar inconsistencies in addressing the needs of children with disabilities. Her prior experiences with disabilities range from affected family members to nanny positions where she cared for children with special needs. The LEND program has increased her interest in the gaps in mental health services for children with special health care and behavioral needs.

This program is extremely beneficial to young professionals in building leadership skills, networking with other concentrations, and acquiring the tools to work with disability and special needs in a real-world setting. Whether someone has experience in working with disabilities or are relatively new to the field, the LEND program is a wonderful opportunity for exploring how disability is woven into every aspect of our lives and especially among the broader fields of health care, and furthermore, how we can best address and improve the lives of those affected.

For more information about the program you can visit the LEND program website at http://ahs.uic.edu/dhd/lend/.


Poster Presentations: State Health System Analysis

On Thursday, April 30, students from the class on “Health Systems: Services, Programs, and Policies for Women, Children, and Families” (CHSC-511) presented posters on a state health system. The Maternal and Child Health Systems class is taught every spring by Karen VanLandeghem, Adjunct Professor and Senior Program Director at the National Academy for State Health Policy.  FullSizeRender(1) IMG_2985(1) IMG_2984(2)


Meet Amy Solsman – Current MCH Epidemiology Student

Amy Solsman (right) with a friend in Shalisi, South Africa

Before moving to Chicago to study Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Epidemiology at UIC, Amy Solsman spent two years in Shalisi, a rural village in South Africa, with the Peace Corps teaching math to 120 5th graders. While not a regular element of the math curriculum, Amy taught her students about HIV prevention and contraception. She felt that this was especially important due to the high prevalence of HIV in the area and the relative silence and stigma surrounding the virus in the village. She taught her students about dental hygiene and good tooth brushing habits. Amy also established a Permagarden Committee that created a school garden and provided nutritional education. Her passion to improve the health literacy and the health status of her students was a result from, in part, bearing witness to the unjust, negative consequences of a lack of access to resources and health care.

unnamedAmy said that working for a year at the Boys and Girls Club and her two years as a math teacher in South Africa “helps me keep perspective in the classroom because if you want to make a difference, you have to understand who you are serving.” The skills she is learning at the UIC School of Public Health (UIC SPH) are helping her further put her passion into practice. Amy is MPH candidate with a concentration in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology. She feels that she is getting tangible and applicable skills in research and data analysis, and the Maternal and Child Health Program’s leadership training is better preparing her for the workforce where capabilities in leadership are needed and valued.

Amy chose the Amy 2UIC SPH because of the MCH Epidemiology Program, and because the curriculum incorporates community based participatory research (CBPR) models and has a focus on local, state-wide, and national public health issues. Upon acceptance to UIC, Amy was awarded the Irving Harris Maternal and Child Health Assistantship. As a Research Assistant for the MCHP, Amy has had the opportunity to work on a study with Dr. Arden Handler that focuses on improving the utilization of the postpartum visit for increasing postpartum contraception use.

Written by Cristina Turino, Research Assistant and UIC MPH/MBA Candidate


Attending the 2015 Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP) Annual Conference

3304ce9In January 2015, I had the privilege of attending the 2015 Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs (AMCHP) Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference, titled “United to Build Healthier Communities,” was an opportunity for me to network, learn, and go to Capitol Hill to advocate for the MCH Title V Block Grant.

On Saturday, I began the conference by attending a skills building session focused on community economic development strategies. This session emphasized collaborations, partnerships, and constituency building in expanding our MCH work to focus on economic development as a social determinant. At this session, a group of us from different sectors in Illinois brainstormed different ways in which economic barriers perpetuate inequities for Illinois families.

Other sessions that I attended focused on early childhood, MCH leadership, collaboration in policy and advocacy, systems thinking, and MCH 2015 policy issues. Since the conference brought together leaders from non-profits, universities, and state and local MCH programs, these sessions created rich discussions because of the various expertise and viewpoints. Often, these sessions were interactive and collaborative and I appreciated learning from the leaders of the sessions as well as the attendees.

Monday was the most rewarding day for me at the conference. After attending a session on 2015 MCH policy and discussing the funding needs of MCH programs, I went to Capitol Hill to advocate for Title V along with Dr. Arden Handler, Illinois Title V Director Dr. Brenda Jones, and LEND trainee Ryan Murphy. We visited both Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s and Senator Mark Kirk’s offices and met with their health aids. We shared information on the importance of the MCH Title V Block Grant and the impactful work happening in Illinois. In addition, we provided resources on UIC SPH’s MCHP program, the LEND program, and other Block Grant specific programs. It was a pleasure to attend this hill visit that Dr. Handler organizes annually. In Dr. Handler’s Advocacy and Policy course, I learned about strategic ways to advocate to a legislator, and this was a prime opportunity for me to practice with a pro!

Throughout this conference, I took advantage of the opportunity of being around so many MCH professionals by networking. AMCHP encourages state programs to learn from their regional peers and the region V (IL, WI, MI, MN, OH, IN) lunch was a chance for us to meet with and learn from these other Title V programs. However, by far, the highlight of my networking efforts was meeting Dr. Michael Lu, Associate Administrator of MCHB! He was a pleasure to speak with and was encouraging of my upcoming step into the MCH workforce. Overall, this conference was a huge success; I tackled my first lobbying experience, made some promising connections, and gained a deeper understanding of the network of Title V programs and the future directions of the Block Grant. I am thankful to UIC SPH MCHP for providing me the opportunity to attend this conference!

Written by Joanna Tess, UIC Maternal and Child Health MPH Candidate