Mayor Barrett has long been a leader in the public health arena, from his days in Congress when he served as an original author of the Violence Against Women Act to his leadership as Mayor in which the city of Milwaukee has seen a decrease in teen birth rates and infant mortality rates and an increase in school-required immunizations, as well as other indicators of community-wide health.
Public health is about creating the conditions in which everyone can be healthy. This includes not only ensuring access to health care and encouraging healthy behaviors, but also addressing the physical environment and socioeconomic conditions that so strongly affect people’s chances to be healthy. The Mayor’s long-term commitment to addressing the root causes of health disparities continues to benefit the Milwaukee community.
Among the many priorities for protecting and promoting health in Milwaukee, Mayor Barrett’s top priorities include reducing teen pregnancy, reducing infant mortality, increasing immunization rates, preventing childhood lead poisoning, and ending violence in our community.
Combating Teen Pregnancy
More than a decade ago, Milwaukee was one of the 10 cities in the United States with the highest teen birth rates. Teen pregnancy profoundly, and in most cases negatively, affects the lives of those involved while costing the community millions of dollars through direct care, ancillary services, and the overall drain on the workforce.
In 2008, Mayor Barrett set an ambitious goal. Working with the City of Milwaukee Health Department, the Center for Urban Population Health, and United Way of Greater Milwaukee, he decided to bring the issue to the forefront of public attention by publicly stating that the city would reduce its teen birth rate by 46% by 2015.
On October 23, 2013, Mayor Barrett announced that Milwaukee had met – and surpassed – that goal, three years early, reaching a rate of 25.7 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 17, a decrease from 52 per 1,000 in 2006.
Surpassing the goal was the result of an incredible collaboration between the Mayor and the United Way of Greater Milwaukee’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, which brought together community- and faith-based organizations, local businesses, the media, health care providers, Milwaukee Public Schools – and, of course, the teens in our community themselves.
Reaching this goal does not mean this effort has ended. There is still much room for improvement, and the Mayor will continue to work so that each generation of teens has the same opportunities to achieve their goals.
To learn more about this effort and to read a comprehensive report, visit the United Way’s website at www.unitedwaymilwaukee.org.
Reducing Infant Mortality
Infant mortality is the number of infants who die before their first birthdays – and is a number used worldwide to gauge the overall health of a community. In Milwaukee, Mayor Barrett has made the infant mortality rate one of his most critical public health concerns.
Under Mayor Barrett’s leadership, the city has seen a 14.3% drop in the overall infant mortality rate. This is a significant step forward, but there is a lot of work yet to be done. Though Milwaukee has reached the lowest three-year rolling average on record for the city, the infant mortality rate remains high when compared to Wisconsin or the U.S. as a whole. Moreover, African-American infants in Milwaukee are nearly three times more likely to die before their first birthdays compared to our white or Hispanic infants.
The largest contributor to infant deaths in Milwaukee is complications of prematurity, which account for more than 50% of all infant deaths in the city. Other important contributors to infant mortality include birth defects (which account for approximately 20% of infant deaths) and unsafe sleep environments (which account for between 15 to 20% of infant deaths).
These statistics highlight the fact that not only does Milwaukee need to continue to reduce the overall infant mortality rate, but the city must work to address the racial and ethnic disparity gap in our community. That is why the Mayor has set a goal to reduce the overall infant mortality rate by 10% by 2017, and a simultaneous goal to reduce the African-American infant mortality rate by 15% by 2017.
There is a wide-ranging effort in place to address the issue in Milwaukee. Mayor Barrett continually works to leverage state and federal funding, as well as private investments, to establish and maintain maternal and child health programs that focus on improving birth outcomes. He also chairs the Healthy Birth Outcomes Committee of the United Way of Greater Milwaukee, through which he has brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to work together to create a community where infants and families can achieve better health outcomes.
At the Mayor’s directive, the City of Milwaukee Health Department is on the front lines of the effort, building community partnerships, offering health education, conducting quality research, and providing direct services such as intensive home visiting services by nurses for high-risk families to promote healthy pregnancies, better birth outcomes and safe home environments for infants.
The Mayor has also developed deep relationships with Milwaukee’s faith communities, which are essential in citywide efforts to reduce health disparities. Each year, the Mayor partners with Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital and faith leader to host an annual safe sleep educational meeting for faith leaders as well as a Safe Sleep Sabbath.
Mayor Barrett knows that to be truly successful in addressing infant mortality long-term requires broad efforts. That is why along with improving access to health care, the Mayor is working to reduce poverty, improve access to jobs, provide safe neighborhoods and more. Every single one of these factors strongly influences the ability of our residents to be healthy – and to have healthy babies.
For more information on infant mortality efforts, visit www.milwaukee.gov/health.
Increasing Immunization Rates
Immunizations are among the most effective preventive health services in all of medicine and public health. Ensuring high immunization rates among children and adults is essential to reducing disease outbreaks and controlling the spread of serious illness in our community, and it is also crucial to preventing the long-term health and economic consequences related to vaccine-preventable illness and disease.
Mayor Barrett has strongly advocated for collaboration between schools, day cares, and health care systems to improve the health of children in our community, including improving immunization rates in our student populations.
The City’s immunization program focuses on coordinating with key partners such as health care systems, community health clinics, and schools and child care centers to improve immunization rates. The program also conducts activities such as special immunization clinics for the public, education and outreach at community events, and surveillance of vaccine preventable diseases in the City.
Under Mayor Barrett’s leadership, the City of Milwaukee Health Department has partnered with public and private K-12 schools and the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office to improve compliance with the Wisconsin Immunization Law. This has resulted in the highest immunization rate ever documented for Milwaukee schools, with more than 87 percent of individuals currently meeting compliance. The City of Milwaukee Health Department provided more than 15,000 vaccinations to citizens at the city’s health center locations and community-based organizations in 2013 alone.
Most recently, the City, led by the City of Milwaukee Health Department, founded “Immunize Milwaukee!”, a coalition of private, nonprofit and government entities working to improve vaccination rates among adults and children in the metropolitan region, including reduction of immunization rate disparities among minority and low-income populations.
For more information about immunizations, visit www.milwaukee.gov/health.
Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning in children has been proven to have serious long-term consequences including impaired school performance, learning disabilities, hearing loss, aggressive behavior and juvenile delinquency.
The city has been a leader nationwide in the reduction of lead poisoning in children under 6 years of age. Since 1996, the prevalence of children with significantly elevated blood lead levels has been significantly reduced from 41 percent. Under Mayor Barrett’s leadership, the decline has continued to reach its lowest level at 3.3 percent. That’s a huge success, but at the same time there is much work to be done.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that even slightly elevated blood lead levels can cause significant harm to children, so many more than 3% of Milwaukee children are at risk. The City estimates that there are approximately 130,000 housing units in Milwaukee that have lead-based paint hazards that pose a risk to young children visiting or living on the premises.
The Mayor continues to advocate for screening of children, rehabilitation of housing, and the cooperation of residents and property owners around lead abatement. The City of Milwaukee Health Department works with property owners to remove lead hazards from housing units, and also partners with community-based organizations to ensure routine screening and testing of children in the community.
Along with the Department of City Development, Department of Neighborhood Services, and Department of Administration, the City of Milwaukee Health Department works to advance lead-safe work practices and housing through inspection and housing rehabilitation services. As of 2013 almost 17,000 housing units have been made lead safe in the City of Milwaukee through these program activities.
For more information about lead-hazard reduction and lead-poisoning prevention, visit www.milwaukee.gov/health.
Ending Violence in our Communities
The Mayor’s Office of Violence Prevention is tasked with bringing together agencies, experts, and community resources to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault, illegal guns, interpersonal violence, intentional injury, homicide, and child abuse.
Through the Office of Violence Prevention, the City coordinates the Milwaukee Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, which brings together agencies and stakeholders from the community to increase safety for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault while holding perpetrators accountable for their behavior.
In collaboration with community partners and experts, it is the Mayor’s goal to prevent violence against people of all ages and work to ensure that those affected by violence have access to justice and social service systems.
For more information, visit www.milwaukee.gov/staysafe.