Director, Shelby County Health Department
After 20 years in this role, today is my last day of service as the Director of the Shelby County Health Department.
I want to take this opportunity to share several thoughts related to infant mortality reduction and community health improvement.
As a public health practitioner and leader, as a mother and as an African-American woman committed to Shelby County, my adopted home, improving infant mortality in this community has been a major focus and a personal and professional goal throughout my career.
I am extremely proud and grateful for the significant improvements that we, as a community, have made in increasing the likelihood that babies born in Shelby County are born healthy and live to see their first birthdays.
From a place known for having one of the worst rates of infant mortality, Shelby County is now known as a place where change can happen and a vision of health can be achieved. This is possible because of sustained focus and strategic work by a broad cross-section of people, agencies and organizations committed to accomplishing a single common goal.
We have reduced the number (and rate) of babies who die in our county from 183 (rate of 12.8) in 2004 to 127 (rate of 9.2) in 2013. Preliminary data indicates we have sustained that decline in number and rate through 2014. As a community we have demonstrated and seen we can work together to achieve what may have seemed to be impossible.
Yet, we still have much to do. I believe our ongoing work to create a shared vision of health (a vision that includes physical and emotional well-being, prosperity and safe, vibrant and attractive communities for all our residents and visitors) must both become more focused and at the same time must expand to a broader horizon.
We have at least two major challenges:
1. Eliminating the racial disparities that exist in the health of our babies and children.
2. Creating a community where all children are valued and nurtured by adults in all communities.
We must focus now on reducing the threefold disparity in rate of deaths between black and white babies and work to change the fact that the actual number of black babies who die in Shelby County is almost 8 times greater than the number of non-Hispanic white babies in Shelby County. Changing this reality means working just as hard and with as much commitment and focus to change the day to day reality of persons in our community who live in poverty, in sub-standard homes and located in unsafe neighborhoods and whose children are not experiencing success in school.
Just as we have been able to assure that infants are born and stay healthy, it’s important that we work just as hard to protect our babies and assure that they are healthy in mind, body and spirit as they progress through childhood and adolescence into young adulthood.
Supporting families (of all shapes and sizes), strengthening parenting skills, creating positive role models for children, investing in early childhood and strong educational opportunities for all children to prepare them for full and meaningful employment — all of these are key to healthy communities and a bright future for all of us in Shelby County.
Let me thank each of you who has done so much to help Shelby County improve its infant mortality rates. You have demonstrated that vision of health is not only aspirational but achievable.
Lets use the lessons and successes of our infant mortality reduction work to guide and inspire us to secure this future for us all.