In 2018, New Jersey began a broad effort to improve the health of Black mothers and babies. The state’s overall infant mortality rate is below the national average, but the rate is double that for Black infants in Atlantic City. Recent data show Atlantic County has a rate of six infant deaths per thousand live births, while the state rate is four per thousand.
Atlantic City was among eight cities receiving grants that year under the Healthy Women, Healthy Families initiative of the N.J. Department of Health. Among those cities, Atlantic City had the highest percentage of those smoking during pregnancy, it said.
Soon after, the department awarded $1.1 million to the Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative, which strengthens maternal and birth health care in seven South Jersey counties, with special emphasis on racial disparities and high-risk factors in Atlantic City and Camden.
From the start, AtlantiCare health system has been at the forefront of improving maternal and infant health in Atlantic County and Atlantic City. The region’s only neonatal intensive care unit is at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Galloway Township. Also there as part of its Center for Childbirth are programs central to the effort such as Safe Beginnings, Maternal Fetal Medicine and Family Planning.
These programs will expand and add more services with the expected opening by year’s end of AtlantiCare’s $38.3 million Medical Arts Pavilion next to its medical center in Atlantic City. Among the steady improvements in the meantime is dedicated and higher profile transportation for maternity related services.
Safe Beginnings provides care to families from pregnancy until the child’s first birthday. The program’s team includes certified nurse midwives, certified community doulas, a social worker, neonatologist, peer specialist and registered nurses. Besides care, they help educate parents, connect them to resources such as a clinic, and assess the home for other needs.
The program last month gave the home visits a higher profile. Thanks to a grant from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the nurses and doulas of Safe Beginnings are hitting the road in the community in a brightly colored SUV.
There’s no mistaking this help arriving for moms and babies. The vehicle is wrapped in light blue, pink, lavender and white designs, with a central silhouette of a mother and child.
This touch of specialness underscores the importance of care from pregnancy into childhood. And with “Safe Beginnings” in large script and a phone number prominent, the car will help raise awareness among some hard-to-reach moms in need of the substantial help available to them.
Big facilities and robust services are required to achieve better maternity outcomes, of course. Small and steady improvements such as a signature vehicle and the quarterly informational baby showers give an extra push and make more contacts for a surer, wider result.