Amanda Murray explains to new Healthy Families Network participants why their participation matters. Credit: Roseanna Garza / San Antonio Report

Local health leaders and members of the community convened Monday at the monthly Healthy Families Network (HFN) meeting to discuss initiatives to reduce maternal and child mortality rates in Bexar County.

The HFN, founded in 2011 by Metro Health, is a community action network of more than 40 organizations “pulling together to make sure that women’s health stays a priority.” Funded through a Healthy Start Program grant, participants met at the San Antonio Central Library to discuss how to strengthen community partnerships to reduce infant mortality and support successful birth outcomes for both women and children.

“This is not just a group of agencies coming together to dictate information that goes into the community,” said Amanda Murray, coalition coordinator for the HFN. “We actively engage the community in the actions of the network.”

At the collaborative meetings stakeholders and community participants are divided into groups based on priority areas and their area of expertise. Participating organizations include UT Health San Antonio, Healthy Futures of Texas, the Children’s Shelter, and the Bexar County Juvenile Probation Department.

Community members in attendance participate in the workgroups, giving direct feedback on the effectiveness of programs and the services they receive through their participation in Healthy Start and other education-based initiatives.

“It can be overwhelming for someone to come into this atmosphere to come and give their two cents – but we want their two cents,” Murray said. “We are trying to bridge that gap. We want to gain their feedback to hopefully improve our information and services.”

Daisy Sampson is a mother who is participating in program services through Healthy Start. She attended the collaborative meeting with her two daughters as part of a program initiative to give “points” to mothers who participate in educational services. Those points can then be used to purchase things such a diapers, formula, and other parenting essentials.

Sampson told the Rivard Report that women in her community often don’t seek answers to their health questions because they may be nervous to speak about their health, are undocumented, or worry about being judged as a parent.

“I like these [meetings] because they are informative and I want to be able to be more active helping others out, too,” Sampson said. “I can learn this and then encourage [others] to come learn.”

Murray told the Rivard Report that in order to understand why the HFN is so important  one must also “be aware of the history of inequity in our city.”

The HFN provides health and prenatal education for children up to 2 years old in areas with high infant mortality. “We are working on trying to eliminate and reduce the health disparities so all babies are literally born with an equal chance to thrive,” Murray said.

Murray grew up in San Antonio, and said she has lived in areas where populations are underserved when it comes to public health.

“I have lived most of my life in those areas, [so] I feel a passion and a closeness for serving [these] women,” Murray said. “The reality is that in the neighborhoods that we serve, the infants we work with don’t have an equal chance because of the social determinants of health.”

Social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. Barriers, real and perceived, hold people back from having a full understanding of the state of their health.

There are four work groups, each focusing on a different aspect of maternal and child health.

  • The “healthy outcomes through perinatal education and support” work group focuses on issues impacting agencies and the families they serve, promoting health education before, during, and after pregnancy, and works to address challenges that lead to poor birth outcomes.
  • The “cultural awareness, respect, and empowerment” work group ensures that the HFN activities and products are culturally sensitive and community-specific.
  • The “data, resources, utilization and management” work group develops recommendations for improving community resources and healthcare delivery systems through analysis of data trends to establish effective interventions and implementation of programs.
  • The “reproductive life planning” workgroup examines the service needs for women of child-bearing age, with special attention to populations considered at high risk for pregnancy and sexual health education, with special emphasis given to the educational and behavioral need of fathers.

“What we found when doing home visits was that people don’t really know why they are taking medications or know the ins and outs of their health,” Murray said.

Murray told the Rivard Report that lack of understanding, language barriers, immigration status – all social determinants of health – are what the network is trying to address. She explained that more often than not, when home health workers visit a family they leave the home having heard from the mother that she is “fine.”

Oftentimes women don’t understand the health care they are receiving, don’t know which questions to ask, or don’t feel comfortable communicating about their physical health, so they blindly follow physician guidelines.

“If you have stress or depression you have to know and understand what is being told to you by your doctor instead of just blindly following,” Murray said. “We want to encourage women to know and understand, especially about birth planning.

“If you don’t understand, you have the right to understand,” Murray said.

Kori Eberle, a Health Program Manager with Metro Health, told the Rivard Report that the work group meetings moving forward will be geared toward “involving community more and making the [information gathered] more logical and understandable for the general public.”

To learn more about the HFN, and how to participate as an organization or community member, click here. Meetings are held on the third Monday of each month.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.