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SSW Course Draws Students from Many Disciplines to Study Infant Mortality

An interdisciplinary course, "Exposing Infant Mortality: High Hopes in Baby Steps," brought together students from every school on the Baltimore campus of the University of Maryland to gain the latest insights on babies' health and well-being and factors that produce better outcomes for expectant mothers.

Students met during the minimester, on Jan. 8 and Jan. 9, in the auditorium and classrooms at the School of Social Work (SSW) to learn together and plan community-service projects. Groups will organize a drive to collect diapers and other supplies while other groups will hold baby showers to distribute the items.

The course, organized by the School's Maternal and Child Health (MCH) program, is the longest standing of the University's offerings in interprofessional education, which teaches collaboration across disciplines from law to nursing.

Jay A. Perman, MD, president of the University, told the 64 students that he was proud to see they had come together not only to consider infant mortality, a significant health problem, but to collaborate in learning about the issue. "The subplot here is to do what you have chosen to do: To get out of your silos and understand the power of team."

Saying the team concept is a "hot topic," Perman noted that it will be the topic of a federal government-sponsored conference that he has been invited to attend. "The purpose is to set team-based competencies that all of us in our various disciplines are going to need to learn and embrace so that we can deliver patient-centered or client-centered team care that is timely and consistent in quality," he said.

Perman also discussed barriers to team practice such as regulatory and fee structures, saying the goal of courses such as this one is "to prepare you to practice and serve clients in an environment that overcomes those barriers."

Perman, a pediatrician, referred to the interprofessional learning that takes place in his weekly President's Clinic, in which Edward Pecukonis, PhD, MSW, plays a key role. Pecukonis is associate professor at the SSW, co-chair of the President's Interprofessional Education Task Force, and director of the School's MCH program, whose scholars and predoctoral fellows oversee the course.

During his remarks, Pecukonis lofted a prop that he calls his "reductionist hammer," making a point about the pitfalls of reducing complex matters to overly simple views based on stereotypes about others and their professions.

The MCH course featured lecturers from various disciplines, including Janice Lynn Lazear, MN, CRNP, CDE, course coordinator and faculty supervisor for Maternal and Child Health in the School of Nursing; Peter Beilenson, MD, MPH, Howard County health officer; and Dana Gaskins, MHS, CHES, director of health education and marketing for Baltimore Healthy Start, Inc., a program for pregnant and postpartum women that Beilenson noted had been established when he was Baltimore City health commissioner.

Beilenson, left, is pictured with MCH predoctoral fellow Todd Vanidestine, MSW, MHR; Pecukonis; and MCH predoctoral fellow Liz Aparicio, MSW, LCSW-C, RPT.

The infant mortality rate has improved in Baltimore City yet, at 11.3 deaths per 1,000 births in 2007, it remains higher than the state's rate of 8.0 deaths per 1,000 births. The figures from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are for the most recent year available. Both levels compare unfavorably with the national rate of 6.8 in 2007.

In Baltimore, the three major causes of unexpected death of children are child abuse, gunshot, and co-sleeping, which is a risk factor for Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID), said Beilenson, who is now director of the Howard County Health Department. In Baltimore, 147 deaths, or 15 percent of infant deaths, were classified as SUID. He said that in many of those cases, death occurred while the infants were sleeping with an adult who was under the influence of alcohol or drugs and unable to detect the babies' distress.

A safe-sleep campaign is a key component of Promise Heights, a community outreach effort in West Baltimore that is led by the SSW, according to Bronwyn Mayden, MSW, assistant dean of continuing education and executive director of Promise Heights, Her course presentation included the work of the B'More B'more for Healthy Babies program. Its motto: "Alone. Back. Crib. No exceptions."

SSW Dean Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW, observed that the MCH course allows participants to step back from conventional academic routines and engage in exploration.

During his presentation, he reviewed several interventions designed to protect newborns whose parents are troubled, including a birth match concept in which mothers and fathers are presumed to be in need of intervention if their parental rights had been terminated in the past and the expansion of the safe haven option in Maryland. Moving such initiatives forward, said Barth, very much requires interprofessional collaboration because of the need to address all the concerns of each discipline involved in policymaking and implementation.

To promote learning across disciplines, students engaged in exercises that started with getting to know one another. Similarly, they are expected to work collaboratively in community service activities coordinated by the MCH scholars.

The scholars are Mosunmola Akinbolajo, Andrea Downing, Mary Sarah Harper, Jessica Janowitz, Leslie Sherrod, and Susan Taylor.

Posting Date: 01/21/2011
Contact Name: Patricia Fanning
Contact Phone: 410-706-7946
Contact Email: pfanning@umaryland.edu