A five-year federal grant totaling nearly $5.5 million was awarded to Harris County Public Health from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on April 30 to improve maternal and infant health in the county.

This comes after a November report released by the nonprofit March of Dimes gave Harris County an "F" letter grade on its maternal and infant health report card in which one in eight babies born in Harris County are born preterm or before the gestational age of 37 weeks.

HCPH Executive Director Barbie Robinson said in a news release her organization is committed to closing the gap when it comes to improving overall maternal and infant health outcomes. Robinson said Texas and Harris County have higher rates of maternal and infant deaths across all races, with significant disparities in Black babies and mothers.

“Harris County Public Health is grateful for this significant and critical financial investment to support the expansion of our maternal and child health programming, and this would not have been possible without the support of the Harris County Commissioners Court and our elected members of Congress. This is an opportunity to expand our reach and capacity to provide services to populations that have historically been underserved,” Robinson said.

The impact

Federal funding will begin in 2024 and last until 2029 to support HCPH's Health Start Program services, which include case management, group-based and in-home parenting education, referrals and links to care and support services, according to a news release. The grant will also provide health care and behavioral health services for mothers and pregnant women in targeted service areas.

What else

During the county's maternal and child health conference in April, Robinson introduced the Maternal Health Bill of Rights. The Maternal Health Bill of Rights aims to move the needle in addressing the public health crisis of maternal and infant mortality, Robinson said.

Some of the rights listed relate to prenatal care, family planning rights, breastfeeding, pregnancy complications and delivery options.

Also of note

District 7 U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston, said in a news release that she wrote to the Biden Administration advocating to improve community health, and address disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes.

In response, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the nearly $5.5 million in federal funding to HCPH to support the health care and social needs of mothers and infants in underserved communities throughout the county.

“The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of all developed countries, and Harris County has the highest maternal morbidity rates among metropolitan areas in the United States ... I look forward to continuing to work together to improve maternal health in Harris County,” Fletcher said.