Open Arms Perinatal Services
Spring 2012
Vol 4, Issue 1
Open Arms News  
Spring 2012    

Health Disparities and Optimal Health  

Dear Friends,  


I recently attended a Luncheon where an elder received an award for her work in advocating for children and families in her community. Upon receiving the award she ended her remarks with these words: "We must stand up for the generations behind us and we must stand up for those in front of us."


I was powerfully struck by this. In recent years, Open Arms has been engaged in conversations nationally and locally on the health and well-being of our communities. In particular, the conversation has centered on eliminating health disparities and "closing the gap" in our health, education and social lives.


Perhaps you've read the 2012 State of the World's Mothers Report from Save the Children or are following Amnesty International's campaign to reduce maternal mortality as a human rights issue.


If so, you'll know some of the harsh realities in the United States:


  • The risk of maternal death in the US is 1 in 2,100 - the highest risk of any developed nation except Albania, Moldova and the Russian Federation.
  • A child born in the United States is four times as likely to die before his or her fifth birthday as a child born in Iceland. 
  • The United States has the least family-friendly maternity policies of any wealthy country.
  • Preschool enrollment and the political status of women place the United States in the bottom ten of all industrialized nations.


In addition, within the United States, there are huge disparities: African-American and Native American communities face maternal and infant death rates that are much higher than that in the white community.


"Stand up for the generations behind us..." Addressing disparities in health is about confronting the social justice implications of the causes of health disparities - that is, addressing the historical and institutional inequities we have inherited in our country. This work is essential and foundational to making any improvements in the health of our communities.


"Stand up for those in front of us." And, given this country's poor showing on the global health scale, we need to reach higher than the best we have done in the United States, and ask a broader question: What does optimal health really look like? Hint: It looks a lot like Norway, the country that year after year tops the list for maternal and infant health. Continuing to use current United States outcomes for "optimal" benchmarks sells us all short. In addition, we must be willing to explore the possibility that the strategies we need to use to close the disparities gap between people of color and white communities may be different than the strategies that could help communities of color reach optimal health. 


So how do we redefine our goals so that we achieve optimal - rather than just equitable - health? What changes do we need to make so we achieve outcomes that are equal not to the best we can do in the United States, but the best we can do in the world? Solutions don't have to be expensive to work. And because of current inequities, they won't be the same for all communities.


We want to hear your ideas on this topic and more - join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Sheila Capestany
Executive Director 
In This Issue
Global Health Experience
Breastfeeding Peer Counseling
Book Recommendation
Save the Date! 2012 Auction 11/27
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Look for Open Arms at the Global Health Experience This Summer
This summer, Open Arms will participate in the Global Health Experience for the Seattle Center: The Next Fifty celebration
Seattle Center The Next Fifty
We'll be in the Next Fifty Plaza offering hands-on demonstrations and talking about maternal-infant health. The event takes place in July; exact dates to be announced.

As members of the Washington Global Health Alliance, Open Arms is excited to be part of the Global Health/Nexus exhibit on global-to-local health strategies. It's a philosophy Open Arms is already embracing through our use of community-based health workers, a proven practice in this country and globally to move the marker in health outcomes. Stay tuned on our website or Facebook page for more information.

Breastfeeding Peer Counseling Program Well Underway 

Our newest program is thriving! Our Breastfeeding Peer Counseling Program is a partnership with Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and was started in June 2011. Breastfeeding peer counselors spend the majority of their time in the WIC clinics with weekly time on the Warm Line for breastfeeding support. However, sometimes they extend their support to the larger community as well. In March, the breastfeeding peer counselors and other Open Arms staff testified at Seattle City Council in support of legislation to protect the right of mothers to breastfeed without being told to stop, cover up or move, legislation that ultimately passed in a unanimous vote. Infant mortality and low birth weight disproportionally impact Native American and African American women in King County, and addressing this inequity has been a Seattle Women's Commission priority since 2006. Our breastfeeding peer counselors were eloquent advocates for breastfeeding and we are proud of the Seattle City Council's decision to support all women and their babies in this way.

Our program touches many women in the community and continues to grow. This spring, we welcomed new breastfeeding peer counselors Mary Nguyen, Tatyana Tomashova, Stephanie Mora, Sulamita Cordova, Leticia Brooks and Cynthia Vela. They join Leahla Contreras, Suad Farole, Leanne Brock and Brittany Tamayo to form our breastfeeding peer counselor team.

We are excited about the possibilities of breastfeeding peer counselors having a positive impact on the health and well-being of our communities and are thrilled with the work they're doing in our community to support breastfeeding.

Book Recommendation 

Looking for a thought-provoking book for your summer reading?

Check out The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down written by Anne Fadiman.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
The story is an account of the unbridgeable gulf between a family of Hmong refugees and their American doctors. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, among other awards. As well as being a moving story, it is urgently relevant to all of us as we consider the role of community and culture in healthcare.
This book beautifully and respectfully illustrates the American culture's medical model and one example of another culture's way of viewing illness and healing. It explores the deep misunderstanding and distrust that develops between these two cultures--and the tragic results.
Such issues are a part of everyday life for the women and families that Open Arms serves. Regretfully, prolonged misunderstanding - or even denial - of these issues reinforces negative stereotypes within cross-cultural relationships. Open Arms doulas work to improve the situation by serving as cultural navigators between our families and their medical providers.  
This book is well worth the read.


Save the Date! 2012 Auction To Be Held Tuesday, November 27th  at SANCA 

Save the evening of Tuesday, November 27, 2012 and join us at our annual not-to-be-missed auction!   


Our Short and Sweet Auction will reach new heights again this year at the School for Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (SANCA) - a local 501c(3) dedicated to improving the physical and mental health of children of all ages by engaging them in the joyous creativity of acrobatics and circus arts.  


The annual Open Arms auction aims to support local businesses and offers attendees a night of guilt-free holiday shopping and fun all in two hours. Our event will be a fun-filled night complete with exciting auction offerings and an opportunity for a sneak-peek of the winter acrobatics and circus show by SANCA youth performers. They'll take your breath away! 


Ladies and gentlemen, save the date and join the fun. This will be an evening you won't want to miss! Look for more details about this event in the fall. 


Board of Directors:
Kelly Beeken, Chiemi Davis, Peggy Fitzgerald, Barbara Gorham, Eunice Lunde, Reese McGillie, Jay McLean-Riggs, Erica Nixon Mack, Sabrina Urquhart, Ty Watanabe



Sheila Capestany, Leann Brock, Leticia Brooks, Margarita Celis, Leahla Contreras, Salamita Cordova, Yvette Diobate, Hawa Egal, Libin Egal, Suad Farole, Lisa Foss, Deziree Lindsey, Annie Moffat, Stephanie Mora, Mary Nguyen, Michelle Sarju, Erica Sugita, Brittany Tamayo, Tatyana Tomashova, Cynthia Vela