Photos courtesy of Hedi Rudd

“I speak for all our partners today, including the Dane County Health Council, EQT by Design, The Black Maternal Child Health Alliance (BMCHA), Doulas, community health workers (CHW’s), and community-based partners. Today is a great day in Wisconsin when we can gather to share good news” stated Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness founder Lisa Peyton-Caire, flanked by community and health care partners during a press conference held on May 2nd to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the ConnectRx Wisconsin program, a central component of the Saving Our Babies Initiative and its strategies to improve Black birth outcomes in Dane County. 

Hosted by The Dane County Health Council (DCHC) and the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness (FFBWW) the gathering brought together members of the collective organizations doing the work and to share the progress made over the past year.

“Last year in this very same room, we announced the launch of ConnectRX Wisconsin which took us time to build together,” reflected Peyton-Caire.  “The alliance, our health systems partners and black women leaders, we built it together.” 

“Using innovative technology coupled with good old fashioned people power to bridge clinical and community care, one year later we are proud to be able to report that positive gains are being made. We are on the right track.” Peyton-Caire lauded. 

The Saving Our Babies Initiative coalesced in 2018 as a result of the Dane County Health Council and partners joining forces in response to a 2017 community health needs assessment confirming that maternal and child health is one of Dane County and Wisconsin’s most pressing and persistent health concerns. 

The ConnectRX program Launched in April 2022 by the DCHC, FFBWW and partners, ConnectRx Wisconsin is a care coordination system designed to address these challenges at their root. The aim of the program is to reduce low birth weights for babies born to Black mothers by meeting the clinical and non-clinical needs of expectant mothers and their families. ConnectRx Wisconsin specifically supports Black pregnant women and birthing persons through a wrap-around service delivery model that connects both clinical and trusted non-clinical community providers who work together to support patients’ health, social, economic, mental health, and other resource needs. A clinic and community-based workforce of Community Health Workers (CHWs) and Doulas provides additional assistance to highest risk patients, ensuring they are supported throughout their pregnancy and postpartum.

Kyle Nondorf, President of SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison and one of the DCHC partner organizations, provided insight into the outcomes of the ConnectRX program. “Collectively investing in this community led model we have been able to support over 400 families in just one single year with the ConnectRX Wisconsin program. As a collective we are not only investing in improved resource navigation, access to social needs and ultimately better birth outcomes, but we are also creating a new innovative standard of care for all birthing people in Dane County, and I hope the blueprint for the entire world.” 

“We are encouraged by the early indicators of improvement, seeing Black women participating in ConnectRX and experiencing fewer c-sections, more full-term births, higher infant birth weights and deeper participation between patients, clinical providers in our community workforce. These are very promising early results” Nondorf championed. 

Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Kirsten Johnson offered insight into the issues facing our state. “Wisconsin leads the nation in racial birth disparities impacting Black women and babies and is among the worst in the nation for Black infant mortality. It’s important to recognize that the oppressive systems carry the blame for these health inequities and not the individuals that are suffering from them.” 

“Understanding the root causes of inequities in fetal and infant deaths ensures we are putting forth prevention efforts that will address this. In addition to the critical and impactful work that we are all doing to improve black maternal and child health, it’s important to discuss Governor Evers budget provisions to support and continue these efforts to address our states persistent health inequities.’ Johnson offered in reference to Evers 2023-2025 biannual budget recommendations which would provide funding to expand Doula services and community health workers, in addition to the hope for Medicaid expansion.  

“Doulas provide specific emotional and educational support to mothers before, during and following childbirth to help achieve better maternal and infant health outcomes. Community health workers serve as a liaison between health and social services and the community to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural competency of service delivery.” Johnson explained. 

Ariel Robbins, Project Director for the Dane County Health Council, shared that she has personally benefited from the program as participant, having recently given birth to a son who was also present. “I would like to uplift that this work would not be possible without centering Black voices and leadership. I am beyond proud to co-lead the charge and implement the work of ConnectRX a multisector partnership that connects our clinics with our valuable community-based ecosystem of trusted resources.”

“By continuing to bridge the gap between clinic and community and aligning people with priorities and integrating systems with solutions we are creating keys that open new doors of opportunity,” said Robbins. 

Gabe Doyle, M.S., Chief Health Initiatives Officer for the FFBWW underscored the importance of the moment. “Today we celebrate the first year of ConnectRX Wisconsin our care coordination model conceived in the Saving our Babies community listening sessions, strategically guided by Black women, and now successfully launched and directed daily by a Black woman (Robbins).” 

“Black Community based doulas are vital because they provide critical support and advocacy for Black birthing people during pregnancy, childbirth, and post-partum. Black women are more likely to die from pregnancy related causes than white women. This disparity exists regardless of socioeconomic status, education or other factors and is due in part to systemic racism and bias within our healthcare systems.” 

“To see our collective efforts, materialize this way in concert with Black women and community is confirmation that partnership is the answer,” said Renee Moe, President and CEO of the United Way of Dane County which has been a member of the Dane County Health Council for more than 20 years. “We are demonstrating the power of collaboration and collective impact in helping solve one of our community’s greatest and most pervasive challenges.”

Dr. Tiffany Green, co-chair of the Black Maternal and Child Health Alliance of Dane County and associate professor of Population Health Sciences and Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health provided perspective with her comments. “We have heard how important this program has been and continues to be. I want to celebrate that today and encourage us to keep going until every pregnant and birthing person in Dane County has the safe and respectful care they deserve and the resources to be able to have joyful births. We often do not talk about joy.” 

“I do this work so that Black women, Black pregnant people, Black babies, and families have the freedom to reach their highest potential because we are worth it. I remain grateful for the incredible Black women who make up the alliance where we always make clear that this work cannot be done without us. We show up individually and collectively for Black families every day. We stand on the shoulders of our elders who have been doing this work for decades in Dane county without recognition. We honor you.” Dr. Green pledged. 

That work and the work of those early pioneers, is in good hands. The hands of Black women and community partners who are committed to listening to Black Women.