Florida and Maryland Healthy Start coalitions receive $1.5 million from HHS for infant health equity programs


Nicole Pasia


Healthy Start coalitions and other children’s health programs across 7 states received new grant funding from the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) on Monday to improve infant health disparities. 


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The funding comes from the Catalyst for Infant Health Equity Program Fiscal Year 2022 Awards, administered by the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) under HHS. HRSA awarded a total of $4.5 million to 9 grantees. Specific services the grant will supplement include the coordination of housing and housing stability management, workforce development and implicit bias training, and education and outreach about maternal and infant health disparities.

These funds will support action plans that focus on improving community systems and services that influence health outcomes,” HRSA announced on Monday. 

Florida received the most funding ($1.5 million) of the awarded states. Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, Inc. in Jacksonville and Broward Healthy Start Coalition, Inc. in Lauderdale Lakes each received $500,000 in funds, while the Florida Department of Health received approximately $480,000. 

Healthy Start Coalitions in Florida receive their funding from the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration to implement and oversee care coordination services for pregnant women and children from birth to age 3. 

According to Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, over 15,000 families in the northeast Florida region receive care coordination or home visiting services from the coalition each year. The region’s infant mortality rate was 7.3 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2019, which exceeds the national average of 5.4 deaths per 1,000 live births (as of 2020). In 2019, Broward County experienced an average 5.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, but noted significant racial disparities. Mortality among Black babies (9.1 deaths per 1,000 live births) was nearly 4 times higher than mortality among white babies (2.4 deaths per 1,000 live births).

“There is a need to provide enhanced capacity for the Zero to Three population, particularly in the identification of developmental challenges potentially related to high rates of preterm births and complications during delivery, and the need for increased infant mental health services,” the Broward Healthy Start Coalition said in its Service Delivery Plan Needs Assessment in 2020. “There is a need for continuous workforce development and learning about the utilization of evidence-based practices related to maternal child health.”

In Maryland, Baltimore Healthy Start will receive nearly $500,000 from the Catalyst awards to service thousands of pregnant and postpartum women, a majority of which are Black. Last year, the organization received a $3.3 million award to address hypertension among its patients.  

Awardees in other states include Newark Community Health Centers, Inc. in Newark, New Jersey, Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and Marillac Community Health Centers in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

The Catalyst awards were part of HHS’s $20 million initiative announced this week for various maternal and infant health programs, including increasing access to community-based doulas and improving rural maternal health.

The programs also coincide with several states’ expansion of Medicaid postpartum coverage up to 12 months. Florida, California, and Oregon received federal approval as early as May. The most recent states to receive approval were Maryland, Hawaii, and Ohio, which all had their expansions approved in mid-August.