Program Aims to Reduce Infant Mortality through Critical Home Repairs

Kalamazoo Community Foundation grant supplies funds for up to 15 projects


A baby of color born in Kalamazoo has 2.8 times higher odds of dying than a white infant, according to State of Michigan records. This ties back to household income, says Brenda O’Rourke, RN, BSN, division manager of the Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services Department.


“We know that health is 20% medical and 80% environmental,” O’Rourke says, which means “to ensure babies are reaching their first birthday, we must continue to work to try to prioritize social needs of which a safe home environment is primary.”


A new partnership between Community Homeworks and Cradle Kalamazoo aims to reduce infant mortality while keeping families with young children safe and healthy in their homes. The program is backed by a grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation


“We’re grateful to the Kalamazoo Community Foundation for providing enough funding to complete 10 to 15 critical repair projects in homes where expectant mothers, babies, or children under age five are living,” says Chris Praedel, executive director of Community Homeworks.


The program will focus on making critical repairs to homes expectant mothers and babies live because they are particularly susceptible to environmental health and safety risks.


Komal Razvi, Health Equity Subcommittee co-chair for Cradle Kalamazoo, explains how environmental and home safety are intertwined. “We see alarming cases of infant loss due to poor housing environments,” Razvi says. Situations “like lack of heat cause parents to over bundle their infant and sometimes lead to suffocation.” 


It’s also important to recognize that the stress of knowing home repairs are needed for safety reasons and that the inability to complete the repairs can also contribute to adverse prenatal health outcomes for the mother and baby, Praedel says. 


O’Rourke seconds Praedel’s assessment. 


“We want mothers to be able to focus on their health during pregnancy and the health and development of their infant in that first year of life and beyond,” O’Rourke says. “The added stressor of inadequate or unsafe housing can impact the health of the pregnant mother by increasing stress, which in turn, increases the risk of premature delivery. 


“Prematurity accounts for more than one-third of our infant deaths here in Kalamazoo County,” O’Rourke says. 


This new partnership between Community Homeworks and Cradle Kalamazoo is “not only commendable but also crucial,” Razvi says. “Quality and safe housing are crucial for infant health and development, so much so that researchers refer to quality housing as a social determinant of health ‘vaccine.’ 


“Providing our vulnerable infants and children with safe, quality, and secure home environments is the first step to a successful life,” Razvi says.

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