(L to R) Dr Elizabeth Hill-Karbowski, Penelope Stewart, Bonnie Lee, Dr Matthew Lee. (Photo by Karen Stokes)

Ascension Wisconsin hosted its ninth annual Strong Baby informational luncheon at the St. Joseph Campus, 5000 W Chambers St.

The luncheon celebrated 32 churches on becoming Strong Baby Sanctuaries, which are places where pregnant women and their families can learn about available community resources. Participation in church or community programs can reduce Milwaukee’s most preventable cause of infant deaths: premature births and unsafe sleeping environments.

The event, co-sponsored by Ascension Wisconsin, was scheduled a few days prior to the Sunday, Oct. 13th, Strong Baby Sabbath.

“The Ascension Strong Baby Sabbath Informational Luncheon provides Ascension in collaboration with Mayor Tom Barrett and community health partners, the opportunity to engage the faith-based and community leaders in an informal environment to learn more about this issue. In addition, to learn how they can support women, their families and promote healthy births,” said Penelope Stewart, community outreach coordinator, Ascension.

Speakers, faith community, government and healthcare experts joined together to promote healthy babies. (Photo by Karen Stokes)

Dr. Joan Prince, Vice Chancellor of Global Inclusion and Engagement at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and emcee of the luncheon called upon the attendees.

“You have a wonderful opportunity to take things back to your congregations, your families and your friends. The work that was put into the summit is something that will definitely benefit the community,” she said.

Prince followed with sobering statistics that each year an average of 100 infants in Milwaukee die before their first birthday and Black infants are nearly three times more likely to die than white babies. The infant mortality rate is a crisis in Wisconsin.

Keynote Speaker, Dr. Karen Watson. (Photo by Karen Stokes)

In 2018, of the nearly 9,200 babies born in Milwaukee, 99 did not make it to their first birthday. This is a complex problem related to poverty, race, and health disparities that will take a community-wide effort to address.

Keynote Speaker, Dr. Karen Watson, Ascension Medical Group, brought attention to international statistics on infant mortality.

“Worldwide, 2.5 million babies die annually before their first birthday, she explained. “Seventy five percent of those babies will not see their first week.

Ascension Senior Vice President, Bernie Sherry, expressed the importance of area churches partnering with Ascension.

“When you think about health and wellness and communities flourishing and you look at traditional healthcare services we know as a community, only 20 percent has an impact through clinical healthcare,” Bernie said.

Bernie Sherry, Ascension Senior Vice President and Ascension Wisconsin Ministry Market Executive (Photo by Karen Stokes)

The collaborative efforts between the city government, healthcare and the faith community are seeking to develop an effective outcome.

“We are truly blessed to be parents and there’s nothing more wonderful,” Barrett said. “We have a problem in this city.

Young women having babies need help. We’re here enlisting members of the faith community. There are literally thousands of people that you can reach that the health department can’t. We need the faith community to provide help to these young families.”

“We are asking each pastor in the audience to support the Strong Baby Sabbath on Sunday, Oct. 13, by alerting their congregations to the alarming statistics in Milwaukee and sharing information on how, we as a community can help more children celebrate their first birthdays,” Stewart said.

“Your purpose as a congregation, your purpose as an individual has had a profound impact,” said Sherry. “We cannot do it alone and are grateful.”

City Health Commissioner, Dr. Jeanette Kowalik (Photo by Karen Stokes)
Dr. Joan Prince (Photo by Karen Stokes)