Community center launches program to address birth disparities

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Kiara Baskin Courtesy Baxter Community Center

Baxter Community Center is hosting a community-based doula program following the hiring of Kiara Baskin, the initiative’s first program manager.

Developed for more than a year by KConnect with local, state and national partners, the Community-Based Birth Equity Pilot program addresses birth disparities by ensuring that expectant women of color have access to culturally responsive care by doulas of color.

“In Kent County, Black babies are more than twice as likely to be born at a low birth weight or die within the first year of life than white babies,” said Sonja Forte, interim executive director at Baxter Community Center. “This strategy aims to close those disparities in our community. We are excited that Baxter will be incubating this pilot. Kiara’s doula experience, passion for equitable birth work and commitment to community enhancement make her a natural fit to lead this program. We look forward to continuing to work with our cross-sector partners in order to improve outcomes for moms and babies of color.”

The pilot will be incubated at Baxter Community Center with technical assistance provided by national partner HealthConnect One. Heart of West Michigan United Way will serve as a fiduciary, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s as a health system partner and Proponents LLC as the program’s evaluator. First Steps Kent provided in-kind communication and marketing support for the initiative.

A doula is a nonmedical assistant in childbirth who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother and family before, during and after her birth experience.

“At a time when many people are waking up to the deep systemic racism that results in disparate outcomes for people of color, I am excited to see this initiative launching as an active response,” said Anissa Eddie, Pritzker fellow with First Steps Kent. “This program will create new career pathways for women of color and help increase positive birth outcomes for families of color in our community. The program will also illuminate new approaches to help diversify the health care field and offer more culturally responsive care.”

The pilot program is part of a larger, multiorganizational strategy at KConnect. It brings together local and national partners to increase birth equity in Kent County by improving culturally responsive care within the health care system while providing a career pathway for women of color. The pilot’s team has raised nearly $200,000 from local foundations.

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