NICHQ Employee Spotlight:
Each month, we profile a member of the NICHQ team and learn more about their work and contributions to children’s health. For this month’s NICHQ Employee Spotlight, we speak with Becky Russell, MSPH, Senior Director of Applied Research and Evaluation at NICHQ, as she shares her expertise in driving data to create the necessary changes to reduce preterm birth rates.
Data collected as part of NICHQ’s leadership of IM CoIIN (Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network to Reduce Infant Mortality) has enabled us to explore and document systems and infrastructures that promoted or hindered improvements in four states: Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. These efforts were funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and led by Russell.
How has your background/experiences led you to join a national children’s health organization?
“I’ve spent my career working for mission-related public health organizations focused on maternal and child health, so NICHQ’s mission and vision are very important to me. In my 20 years working in the field, I have overseen epidemiology and program evaluation. The opportunity to join NICHQ was a great way for me to continue to grow my experience and join a team that is doing really important work that has the potential to impact the health and lives of children and families across the country.”
What is NICHQ doing to address preterm birth rates and why is this work important?
“Preterm birth is one of the leading causes of infant mortality. For the past five years, preterm birth rates in the United States have been increasing, and the truth is that we really don’t know why. The causes of preterm birth are complex and our clinical solutions are limited. NICHQ is working to address preterm birth through several of our projects, specifically the Supporting Healthy Start Performance Project, in which the Healthy Start program works to reduce preterm birth rates in their communities, and through the Exploring State-Level Strategies to Improve Maternal health and Birth Outcomes project, where we studied what four different states have done to address preterm birth rates.”
Tell us about NICHQ’s “Exploring State-Level Strategies to Improve Maternal Health and Birth Outcomes” initiative. What are some lessons learned from producing high-quality, informative case studies?
“NICHQ led a major national initiative to reduce infant mortality rates, and as part of that initiative, several states chose to focus on pre and early term births as one strategy to lower infant mortality. With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we selected four of those states (Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Oklahoma) to do a deep dive into their work both through that national initiative and since, to understand programmatic and policy solutions that the states implemented and to learn from their successes and challenges. Because preterm birth rates have been increasing and the disparities are growing, the lessons learned are even more relevant today.”
What are the biggest takeaways or findings from the "Efforts to Address Preterm Births" case studies?
“What we learned from all of the states is that the focus needs to be on the underlying issues that cause the inequities, and in order to do that, we need a shift in how we recognize and change the impact of racism in America. We need to move beyond ’reducing disparities and addressing implicit bias‘ to a clearer focus on anti-racism and full health equity for all. We all have a personal responsibility to advocate for change, but that change needs to happen at a systems level in addition to an individual level. We also need to have a federal focus on policies and funding for programs that work, and a national coordination of efforts. And it’s not all negative…we saw within each of the states effective and promising programs that are being implemented in communities. We can learn from these bright spots and continue to build the evidence for programs that are working.”
Interested in learning more about NICHQ team members? Read last month's employee spotlight featuring Maddy Schwartz, Project Specialist
A Physician’s Reflections on Racism and Treating Sickle Cell Disease
For NICHQ’s current and future work, I am motivated by wanting to be a better version of myself in service of others. Wondering whether my own implicit biases impacted my care of patients and families, I realize that I cannot redo past ER experiences. If I could go back, I would slow down to acknowledge and try to set my biases aside and approach patients from a personally more informed perspective. But now, I can use my past, present, and future experiences to ensure NICHQ is amplifying important lessons from this multi-year effort reflecting the compassion, care, and commitment of hundreds of dedicated professionals in pursuit of equitable, accessible, and quality healthcare for people living with sickle cell disease.
NICHQ Employee Spotlight: Kim Sprunck
As NICHQ's Associate Director of Programs and Project Director for the Sickle Cell Disease Treatment Demonstration Regional Collaboratives Program and Content Development for Newborn Screening Clearinghouse initiatives, Kim Sprunk shares key takeaways and findings from the projects and their importance to NICHQ's overall programming goals.
Navigating Well-Child Visits and Vaccinations during COVID-19
Well-child visits and recommended vaccinations are essential, ensuring children stay healthy and are protected from preventable diseases and illnesses such as measles, whooping cough, and seasonal flu. But, as the COVID-19 pandemic persists, data shows that fewer childhood vaccinations have been given and many children have fallen behind on their scheduled appointments. Healthcare professionals should utilize the following strategies to work with parents and caregivers to get their children caught up on missed appointments and recommended vaccinations.
Exploring a Nonbinary Approach to Health
NICHQ is not abandoning the traditional use of the terms “mother” and “maternal.” We are embracing the inclusive language of “birthing person/people” across our work. A move toward inclusive language does not force us to stop using language that so many people identify with; at its core, inclusion is about creating more space for one another. We are taking care to expand the use of these terms in our communications, on our website, in our resources, and eventually, in all our projects.
NICHQ Employee Spotlight: Stacey C. Penny
With NICHQ's Rare As One Network Workstream Facilitation Initiative at a halfway point, Senior Project Director Stacey C. Penny, MSW, MPH shares an inside look at one of NICHQ's most collaborative projects.
Are Screens Making our Children’s Eyes Worse?
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, children of all ages were spending more screen time than ever before on cellphones, tablets, and laptops. Prolonged periods of time staring at a screen that may be too big, too bright, or too close to our eyes can cause eye fatigue or even lead to dry eye, a chronic eye condition common in older adults. With eye conditions becoming more prominent in children, it's important for health professionals to encourage healthy screen viewing habits and support children’s eye health in the digital age.