By JOHN NEAL
Of all the disparities dividing North Tulsa’s Black community from the rest of the city, the gap in prenatal care is one of the most glaring.
The Tulsa Equality Indicators for Blacks – released in December by city of Tulsa and Community Service Council – pinpointed a long list of risk factors facing mothers and infants in Tulsa’s Black community. Among them: single-headed households and all the risks that are associated with it; little or no prenatal care; low birth weights or premature birth; and short birth spacing.
Fortunately, the Tulsa Health Department’s (THD) Healthy Start program goes a long way in addressing these issues. The initiative reduces high infant mortality rates and improves birth outcomes.
Healthy Start provides wrap-around health services for mothers and babies from conception to 18 months following birth. It also provides a fatherhood endeavor to support and promote the entire family unit. The program, confidential and free, is available to all Tulsans. It is much more than a formal consultation and referral agency.
Very Few Families Pay
Federally funded, the program is administered through two Tulsa County agencies. The THD runs it in North Tulsa. The Community Service Council (CSC) oversees the rest of the city.
The agencies have become so skilled at providing Healthy Start services that “very few expectant families have to pay anything,” said Corrina Jackson, Healthy Start’s program director for the CSC, in an interview with The Oklahoma Eagle.
Most clients sign up for the free service at clinics where embedded Healthy Start staff coordinate services with their community partners.
The program is well-staffed and funded. Both agencies have a budget of over $2 million for this program, have dozens of staff members to assist clients and serve more than 1,000 Tulsa residents each year.
Zero Infant Deaths
By comparison, Tulsa County had 8,689 live births in 2020 and an infant mortality rate of 15 per 1,000 for Black mothers and slightly over 4 per 1,000 for whites. THD’s Healthy Start families have not experienced an infant death in over six years.
“Our Healthy Start infant mortality rate is zero – no deaths in the last four years,” Jackson said.
By comparison, 75 infant mortality deaths occurred in the Tulsa County among Black women alone in that same four-year period, all nonprogram participants.
Considering the benefits, the program brings to mothers and families, the question arises as to why more expecting parents, particularly those in North Tulsa, are not taking advantage of the program?
The consensus among Healthy Start staff is the general lack of awareness of Healthy Start. The COVID-19 pandemic has dampened community canvasing, said Kathy Kleine, THD’s maternal child health manager.
THD’s program targets North Tulsa residents in the eight zip codes immediately north of Admiral Boulevard, representing the highest incidence of infant deaths in Tulsa County. This area is also home to the most significant Black neighborhoods. Kleine said “building public trust” is an essential factor.
Therefore, THD’s Healthy Start activities focus on clinic triage and home visits for this North Tulsa population. More referrals are also necessary because of fewer health clinics available in North Tulsa.
A few of the services Healthy Start provides include:
- Assistance with prenatal and postpartum care
- Parenting skills education and training
- Referrals to WIC services
- Family planning assistance and interconception care
- Food, clothing, and housing assistance
- Linking clients up with SoonerCare or other insurance referrals
- Transportation for medical appointments
- Infant wellness check-ups and immunizations
More referrals are also necessary because of fewer health clinics available in North Tulsa.
For many Tulsans, Black and white, perinatal care can cost thousands of dollars. The average cost for a hospital-delivered baby in Oklahoma is over $12,000. But Healthy Start provides significant and often comprehensive assistance with those costs.
Jeromee Scot, CSC’s chief media and community engagement officer, lauded the program in an interview with The Oklahoma Eagle interview.
“CSC’s Healthy Start program delivers critical services to help meet the needs of mothers, fathers, and infants living in Tulsa,” he said. “I am proud to work with this outstanding group of individuals as they provide education and services to clients to ultimately reduce infant mortality and maternal morbidity/mortality.”
From a “boots on the ground perspective,” Krystal Keener, a care coordinator for CSC since 1998, said, “I have a passion for helping my girls have healthy babies. Both become ‘my babies.’”
Tulsa’s Healthy Start Program Partners
For more information about Healthy Start, check with any of the program’s partnering organizations. They include:
- Utica Park Clinic, 11515 E 31st St.
- Utica Park Clinic, 1540 N Lewis Ave.
- OSU Medical Center – Women’s Health Center, 2345 Southwest Blvd.
- St. John- In His Image, 7501 S. Riverside Parkway
- OU Physicians – Tulsa Women’s Healthcare Specialist, 4444 E. 41st St.
- OU Health Physicians Bedlam Clinic, 1111 S. St Louis Ave.
- OSU OB/Gyn – Houston Center, 717 S. Houston Ave.
- Utica Park Clinic, 1120 S. Utica Ave.
- Indian Health Care Resource Center, 550 S. Peoria Ave.
For more information, visit https://www.tulsa-health.org/personal-and-family-health/child-health/healthy-start.