Reducing infant mortality rates at the heart of new grant

By Steven Bartolotta

Amy web

It was the summer of 1994, Amy Raines-Milenkov, DrPh, was a student at the University of Texas starting her year-long internship in social work and the AIDS epidemic was rampant across the nation. Over that next year, she worked with minority women and children with HIV, but there weren’t many happy endings.

“A lot of those women died, and a lot of the babies died, too,” she said. “As a young person, that was difficult.”

It was there her passion for social work, infants and mothers was born. Twenty-five years later as a professor at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, it has been her hard work and dedication that has led to the largest federally funded program to help reduce infant mortality rates in children in minority communities.

The program, which was funded through TCOM’s Department of Pediatrics and Women’s Health, is a five-year $5.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The “Healthy Start Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Perinatal Health” will allow for more direct services and resources to get directly to community members.

The program is a continuation grant from 2014, due in large part to the successful work that Dr. Raines-Milenkov and her team have done over the past five years

“It’s unique for this type of program to be at a university because most of these programs are not,” Dr. Raines-Milenkov said. “But because UNT Health Science Center has a strong community presence and strong relationships within the community, it was a great fit.”

The program is a multi-faceted approach, concentrating on the disparity of infant mortality rates in the minority community and women’s health. In the African-American community, the mortality rate is three times higher than that of Caucasian infants. September was Infant Mortality Awareness Month, and by raising awareness and bringing necessary resources into the communities that need it the most, the program aims to reduce that number.

The continuation grant will also allow UNT Health Science Center to add a wellness component for women, including counseling, exercise, nutrition and clinical services.

“The women that we serve are really struggling with stress that few people can understand,” Dr. Raines-Milenkov said. “A lot of the women we serve are isolated and in poverty and they have not had access to adequate resources. One of the biggest outcome we want to see is to increase the overall well-being of the women we are serving.”

The grant received an added component recently as $130,000 was added for clinical work in the program. With 11 members of the team working on the program, they are set to see over 100 women a month.

“We hear all the time from people who are getting safe housing, or a stable job, or a medical concern cleared up,” she said. “So when you see the success from the counseling or the intervention and resources that we provided them, it is really satisfying.”

Dr. Raines-Milenkov isn’t one to sit back and wait. This grant is the beginning of what she hopes will be something bigger.

“My dream is that we have a women’s maternal health center where we focus not just on the individual but the system level,” she said. “I want to see more of a concerted effort to help these issues address disparities in maternal and women’s health, and this program can help us get there.”

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