Impact Week: Saving More Babies


Infant mortality is more than a measure of babies’ health; it’s a sign of a community’s commitment to its most vulnerable people.

Editor’s note: We’re celebrating Impact Week—highlighting how support for United Way is changing lives. Read our Impact Week overview here. Also, check out this week’s blogs on Education and Income/Financial Stability. We’ve included personal stories related to Education and Income, too.

“In 2015 we lost a classroom of black babies in this community,” said Grace Lubwama, CEO of YWCA Kalamazoo. “What that means is, we lost future lawyers and doctors and teachers. Every child deserves a first birthday. We need to invest in our most vulnerable so these children can grow up and live to their fullest potential.”

Six of every 1,000 infants born in the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo region die before their first birthday. That’s about the same as the national rate. But African-American infants born locally are four times more likely than white babies to die.

“Even one baby who dies needlessly is one too many,” said Alyssa Stewart, Director of Strategy & Engagement for United Way BCKR. “Getting to the root causes of infant mortality takes a broad, collective and urgent effort.”

United Way BCKR set a goal to improve infant mortality rates in families of color and low income to 6.0 per 1,000 births by 2025.

United Way also set two priorities for its Health focus area: ensuring good physical, mental and behavioral health for families and infants; and awareness, education and engagement with families. Currently, United Way funds nine programs through six agencies, investing $719,350 in strategic grants with new grants pending. [See all of United Way BCKR’s investments, partnerships and collaborations here.]

Making Headway

An interim study by AGS Data LLC on behalf of United Way BCKR shows progress. The study looked at changes through United Way programs and partners from November 2016 through June 2017. Here are some highlights:

• 258 pregnant or post-partum women received crucial health services.

• 85 percent of African-American mothers gave birth to an infant of healthy weight, and 72 percent had an infant born after 39 weeks.

• 43 children received home visiting services that in turn drove better immunization rates.

• 290 professionals and community members received training to reduce infant mortality and increase health equity, with 58 percent of training aimed at increasing awareness of the Cradle Kalamazoo Collaborative. (United Way BCKR is a leading partner in Cradle Kalamazoo as well as a key partner in the Nurse-Family Partnership, which serves first-time, low-income mothers in Calhoun County.)

These results serve as a snapshot of progress; a comprehensive report for the full program year is due in 2018. United Way BCKR will gather and report data on a continual basis.

“When I look at those numbers, I don’t see statistics. I see babies who live healthy lives, moms who know how to care for their little ones before and after birth, an entire region eager to turn tragedy into a bright and hopeful future,” Stewart said.

Click on the following links to see a progress report and geospatial map related to our work in Health:

Health Progress Report UWBCKR 10 2017

Health Geospatial Map UWBCKR 10 2017

Tomorrow: Ensuring a Safety Net