SJC Council pulls nearly $8,000 from maternal and infant health initiatives

Updated: Feb. 16, 2023 at 5:25 PM EST
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New details on a St. Joseph County Council decision to pull funding from county maternal and infant health initiatives.

A Tuesday vote blocked a nearly $8,000 appropriation meant to fund that effort.

“Pregnancy & Birth Health Cafes” have been going on for almost a year, and they create a space for new mothers to tell their experiences through pregnancy and childbirth so the county can address any racial inequities that exist here at a local level.

The goal? To get data for a maternal and infant health equity report to address disparities.

It’s something that was locally funded by these blocked dollars through groups like Beacon, St. Joseph Health Systems, Notre Dame, and Martin’s

But now, County Council member Amy Drake is calling the program quote “not pro-baby or pro-mother” because of who the health department was sharing data with.

That’s the National Birth Equity Collaborative, which was hired by the health department with the county council and commission’s approval.

Drake says the founder of this organization is controversial for having operated without a license in the past and for facing lawsuits claiming malpractice in maternal care.

Still, the health department said the collaborative does not get any personal medical information from participants and has no control over what programs the health department creates from the findings.

“That would be $7,800 that would be tied up and not used for the purpose of serving mothers and babies and hearing mothers’ voices to improve health outcomes in our community,” said SJC DOH Maternal Health Initiatives Coordinator Sally Dixon.

“I would just question why we would want to work with an organization that has this type of background. Why wouldn’t we want to work with a doctor that is actually credible? I think there are so many questions about this organization. I would think the community partners would want better for their people too,” Drake said.

Dixon said these funds specifically go to buying refreshments and office supplies for attendees at the cafes.

Drake says she stands by the council’s action.

“I am very proud of our decision. I think it’s a great decision and like I said, I think the health department should apologize. Why are we working with a fraud doctor,” she said.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion but the money in question like we talked about already was donated by local organizations for the purpose of achieving birth equity in our community,” Dixon said.

Dixon added that the infant mortality rate in our area is 2-3 times higher for Black infants than for white infants. She says the council’s action will only make it more challenging to close that gap.