For five years straight, fewer-than-expected Palm Beach County babies were born too small, according to a statewide study by the Florida Department of Health, which analyzed data from 2013-2017.
Palm Beach County also had a lower-than-expected infant mortality rate in 2017, as did our neighboring counties to the south.
These numbers matter. First, governments use birth outcomes data, like low birthweight and infant mortality, to determine the general health and well-being of a community. Second, babies born too early and too small (before 37 weeks gestation and less than 5.8 lbs.) are more likely to die before celebrating their first birthday, or more likely to suffer long-term health consequences when they live.
Needless to say, poor birth outcomes pose significant costs -- both tangible and intangible -- to a community.
So why has Palm Beach County been successful when other communities have struggled?
While the answer is complicated, local leaders point to three vital components: Collaboration, innovation and resources.
Here in Palm Beach County, Children’s Services Council (CSC), the health department, county government and local nonprofits partner in numerous ways to: raise awareness about the important of preconception and prenatal health; fund programs that reach those at the highest risk of poor birth outcomes; and address racial disparities across the board.
For example, CSC funds nurse home-visiting programs, which are overseen by the health department, to support the specific needs of teen parents, low-income parents and those who face additional obstacles to having a healthy baby.
CSC also funds Community Voice, a grassroots program run by the Sickle Cell Foundation of Palm Beach County, which teaches lay health advisors (barbers, teachers, ministers, etc.)
that early and consistent prenatal care can help prevent black babies from dying. These neighbors then share that message -- along with information for better health, wellness and medical access -- with families in the community in a conversational and non-judgmental way.
While providing specific assistance to individual families in need, our community also is engaged in a serious discussion about the impact of racial inequity on all aspects of health and wellness.
The Department of Health-Palm Beach is participating in the state’s Healthy Babies Initiative, which has mapped out communities with the greatest disparities in infant mortality to provide targeted remedies.
CSC has partnered with county government, nonprofits and other local leaders to host numerous summits addressing racial inequity. The goal is to raise awareness, get to the root cause and change local policies that harm communities of color.
Local hospitals and the medical community at large also participate -- joining the discussion and doing their best to provide equitable and exceptional care.
This collaborative commitment takes a willingness to overcome turf battles and invest in a healthier future. While this is no easy journey, the data seems to show we’re on the right path.
LISA WILLIAMS-TAYLOR AND ALINA ALONSO, WEST PALM BEACH
Editor’s note: Williams-Taylor is CEO of Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County. Alonso is director of the Florida Department of Health-Palm Beach.