By EWA MATUSZEWSKI
My mind keeps going to the word community when I reflect on the past year and a half. Initially, as the pandemic broke out, many of us were in a community of one, two or three, confined to our homes for all but the most essential trips. Then, for those in the healthcare community, there was a call to action, an immediate need to get our own acts together from a public health perspective to treat those afflicted with COVID-19, those who had pressing medical needs not related to the pandemic, and others whose emotional well-being was overwhelmed by the stress the virus added to already fragile lives. Ultimately, we figured it out; with virtual care, drive- through clinics, and in-person care, as necessary. (Indulge me here for a shout out to our organization’s Master of Public Health team members, who provided much of the direction for the pop-up clinics.)
The pandemic is not over in the United States, but it’s easing. Perhaps we can all take a bit of credit for that, whatever our roles – even if just to follow the recommended health guidelines out of concern for ourselves, our families, and our neighbors. For most, especially as we head into summer, a well-deserved rest and temporary break from the hectic pace is in order.
But when that time-off is done, however brief it may be, it’s time for us to be visioning the future and focus on the next public health crisis that will impact our community. We need not look far, as many have been with us, either overshadowed by COVID or percolating just below crisis level so as not to be in the public eye.
One issue that has definitely caught my attention of late is the declining birthrate in the U.S. (not to mention globally) as noted by the 2020 Census findings. It should serve as a catalyst to turn our attention to the fetal maternal health crisis that exists in Detroit. In Michigan, the maternal mortality rate for Black women is two times higher than for White women (Michigan Department of Health & Human Services [MDHHS], 2020), and Black and Native American infant mortality rates are three times higher than White rates (MDHHS, n.d.). In 2019, the city of Detroit reported 11 deaths for every 1,000 live births, compared to 16.7 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2018. An improvement to be sure, but we can still do better. I believe it’s an issue we can tackle together by incorporating some of the many innovative tactics we adopted during the pandemic to keep our communities safe, healthy, and vaccinated.
For example, I’ve written of our organization’s experience with pop-up clinics, notably in the Asian and Albanian community, but also in community fair settings and now, middle schools and high schools. Some pop-ups were in buildings, others in parking lots, while still others, a hybrid of both. But think about it; we did not need any additional bricks and mortar to vaccinate our local communities – or the nation as a whole. We used existing buildings, human networks, community resources and community engagement as the foundations of our outreach efforts. Why can’t we do the same for fetal maternal health? What’s stopping us from setting up a pop-up health information clinic in the parking lot of a well populated residential community? Or on a temporary closed street on the near east side? Can the barbershops help reach future fathers who want to keep their partner and child healthy? It seems that some of these proven pandemic solutions can be adapted to address the fetal maternal health crisis and other crises.
Have you been thinking about this too? I’d love to get your input on how we can apply lessons learned in the pandemic to other public health issues. Our community depends on it.