University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

Kathy Quirk

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Jul 18, 2011 
Action plan tackles African American infant mortality in Racine

Coalition includes UWM researcher

A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing researcher is part of a recently announced effort to lower African American infant mortality in Racine.

Teresa Johnsn
Teresa Johnson

On June 23, the Greater Racine Collaborative for Healthy Birth Outcomes announced a Community Action Plan designed to lower African American infant mortality by 50 percent over the next five years.

Teresa Johnson, a UWM associate professor of nursing specializing in maternal and infant care, has led UWM’s work with the collaborative. A number of graduate and undergraduate students at UWM and UW-Parkside have also worked with Johnson in researching and addressing fetal and infant mortality issues in Racine. Johnson has received funding for her work from Wheaton Franciscan Health Care - All Saints in that city, serving as a clinical nurse specialist and research consultant.

“While much of UWM’s focus has been on the Milwaukee area, I think it is important that we not lose sight of the fact that infant mortality is a serious issue in other urban areas of Southeastern Wisconsin, including Racine. We need to continue to provide leadership, research and evidence-based interventions through community partnerships in Racine as well as Milwaukee,” says Johnson.

For 2007-09 the rate of infant mortality for African American infants in Milwaukee was 14.21/1000 and for Racine it was 20.41/1000, according to Wisconsin Interactive Statistics on Health, measures of health collected by the Wisconsin Health Services Department.

Racine’s Collaborative for Healthy Birth Outcomes, which started at the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread in 2008, brings together representatives from the area’s health departments, health care providers, social service agencies and the community . The Community Action Plan announced in June lists three major steps needed to address the crisis:

  • Improving health care services not only for prenatal care, but also extending care to ensure a woman is healthy before, during and after pregnancy;
  • Strengthening families and communities by broadening the focus to include fathers, other family members and the community at large to create the widest possible support for parents and families; and
  • Addressing social and economic inequities that cause disproportionate, lifelong stress for African American women.

The Community Action Plan also includes research and data that highlight the issues.

Among the findings:

  • College-educated African American women in Racine are more likely to have babies who die in the first year than white mothers who didn’t complete high school.
  • Higher infant mortality rates affect African American families at all income levels.
  • Contrary to misperceptions that link infant mortality solely with teen mothers, the rate in Racine among African American women is higher for those ages 20 to 34.

Johnson and her students have been involved in a number of infant and maternal health care projects working with the nursing staff at Wheaton Franciscan - All Saints and its community partners. 

Johnson has also done extensive research looking at the factors involved the death of infants under the age of 1, including a 2007-09 fetal and infant mortality review funded through UWM’s Center for Urban Population Health. The Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing selected her as guest editor of a January /February 2011 special issue on healthy birth outcomes.

According to the most recent nationwide comparative data available, from 2003-05 Wisconsin ranked 38th among 39 states and the District of Columbia for the worst rates of African American infant mortality. This is a stark difference from when Wisconsin’s African American infant mortality rate was the third-bestranking in the nation in 1979-81. 

The Racine Community Action Plan was developed with support from an $180,000 grant from the Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families through the Wisconsin Partnership Program of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. Racine is one of four communities working with the Wisconsin Partnership Program on the initiative. The other communities are Milwaukee, Kenosha and Beloit.

UWM is also involved in Milwaukee’s Public Health Impact Initiative to Improve Birth Outcomes, a partnership involving the City of Milwaukee Health Department, UWM’s School of Public Health and College of Nursing, and other UWM schools/colleges and community-based partners.