Among the most important population health indicators is the infant mortality rate (IMR) as a reflection of Virginia's overall health status ad access to quality medical care. Virginia has historically had higher IMRs than the national average (VDH Health Statistics 2012) and substantial racial/ethnic disparities remain between Black and White infants (14.4 and 6.1 deaths per 1,000 births for Blacks and Whites, respectively 2002-2006;VDH Health Statistics 2012) and across socioeconomic and rural/urban gradients. The use of community-based participatory research (CBPR) in public health is increasingly recognized as an integral part of effecting change at the community level. We propose to use innovative methods and published best practices to form a community coalition comprised of an academic institution, Shenandoah University (SU), a local health department (Lord Fairfax Health District (LFHD) of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH)), organizations with a mission in improving the health and interests of the relevant communities, trusted community members, and peer leaders of traditionally underrepresented communities to develop a collaborative, equitable partnership whose mission is to begin a dialogue on effective methods of community outreach and community perceptions of infant mortality. We have strategically chosen to focus our efforts on three regions within LFHD: Winchester city (WC), Frederick county (FC), and Page county (PC), representing residents residing in a diverse socioeconomic urban setting (WC), a medically underserved rural setting (PC), and a partially rural, medically underserved, region nearest the University (FC). The activities of the coalition will help community organizations determine best practices in addressing infant mortality in varying community contexts;request assistance;share resources;and in doing so, develop a collective culture to address infant mortality. One outcome of the coalition will be workshops to provide health education to communities in LFHD. This collaborative coalition will also have an Advisory Board whose overarching goal will be maintaining the ongoing interactive community coalition that transcends the tasks of this academic-community partnership project. This newly formed coalition and advisory board will culminate in a memorandum of understanding between SU (grantee institution), VDH LFHD, community organizations and trusted community members for the purpose of carrying out a CBPR project to address health disparities in infant mortality in the local region. There is currently a great need to use community-based methods to address a long-standing public health problem, infant mortality, where substantial health disparities persist and for which there are no current collaborative community partnerships in this region.
This project is a clear example of public health practice at work. The overarching goal is to develop a community-based coalition for developing a collaborative capacity for addressing two national public health priorities, reducing infant mortality and eliminating health disparities, as evidenced by their inclusion in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2010 and 2020 objectives. Furthermore, the equitable involvement of academics, community-based organizations and community members in developing interventions for public health is critical to fostering healthy communities.