Camden Family Festival boosts focus on maternal and infant health

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Camden Coalition co-hosts event with First Lady Tammy Murphy and community partners


By Amy Yuen

On Saturday, March 2, the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers co-hosted the Camden Family Festival with New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy, Camden Mayor Frank Moran, and the Camden City School District at Octavius V. Catto Family School. Nearly one hundred local organizations came together across the city to address maternal and infant mortality and provide resources to over 300 Camden residents — including parents, teens, and children, and community members.

“It is wonderful to see residents, providers, and community partners from all over the city of Camden come together to highlight this critically important issue at the Family Festival,” said Camden Coalition CEO Kathleen Noonan. “Working with First Lady Murphy and the community to put on a successful event has been a top priority for us over the past few months, and we are glad to see it come to fruition.”

The event highlighted Nurture NJ, a statewide awareness campaign committed to reducing infant and maternal mortality and morbidity and ensuring equitable maternal and infant care among women and children of all races and ethnicities. New Jersey ranks 47th in the country in pregnancy-related deaths, and the maternal mortality rate for black women in the state is over four times the rate of that of white women. In Camden, nearly 35% of women are admitted to the hospital or visit the emergency department within a year of giving birth, often because of untreated chronic illness.

“I’m so thankful that the first lady has taken this project on because we need to address the maternal and infant health crisis at a state level,” said Joan Gray, chair of the Camden Coalition Board of Directors and Assistant Vice President of Ambulatory Services at Virtua Health. “What better organization to pull everyone together than the Camden Coalition because the Coalition can pull together not only the providers, but also the residents of the city. You can’t figure out answers without the city’s residents being part of the solution.”

The festival was set up as a health fair with children’s activities, food, and prizes. Community partners — ranging from health insurance to maternity and early childhood services, food and nutrition, housing, and more — answered questions and helped families sign up for programs at their tables in the school’s gymnasium and hallways.

In the auditorium, attendees enjoyed live performances by the Camden Sophisticated Sister Drill Team, Catto Community School Dancers, and the female-fronted student band, the Trumpet Chics. Over in the library, the mood was more reflective and intimate. Storyteller and teaching artist Queen Nur introduced the audience to Angel Johnson, a graduate of our Camden Delivers program and Community Advisory Committee member. Sitting in a rocking chair, Angel shared a personal story about how her health affected her pregnancy and her relationship with her children. The audience included both First Lady Tammy Murphy and Shereef Elnahal, Commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Health. When she finished, the audience stood up and cheered. “The only way we can make change is by sharing and telling our stories,” said Queen Nur.

“Complex care involves ensuring that pregnant women with complex medical conditions have stable deliveries and get stabilized healthwise during their pregnancy,” said Joan. “This is another group that we have to address as a nation because the inequity in maternal and infant health is unacceptable. We can’t live like that in this country, state, and city. The future of the city depends on families. We need to support our families to have a start that’s the best it can possibly be.”

Dana Redd, Camden Coalition board trustee and Chief Executive Officer of Rowan University/Rutgers-Camden Board of Governors, said raising health awareness and building community connections to resources are key steps in addressing the health crisis. “Camden is really a community of families and collaborators. I think at the end of the day, everyone wants to see the quality of life for our children, youth, and families improve. We’re willing to do the work to advance that mission,” she said. “We must continue to raise awareness about the importance of health and wellness, and at the same time, connect families to service providers.”

Camden Coalition board trustee Anthony Welch, Vice President of Government and Community Relations at Cooper University Health Care, said that the Camden Coalition can play a key role in convening local hospitals to share best practices around maternal and infant health. “I think there’s a lot of good work that’s being done around maternal health, but to do it sustained and at scale, one of the things we need is more information sharing. I know that the New Jersey Department of Health is going to be taking a leadership role in this as well, so that’s going to be a big part of it, too.

“The maternal and infant health crisis is a systemic issue, and a systemic issue needs a systemic response. Having someone as wonderful as the first lady involved in this brings that systemic response possibility to it. I feel very proud of the work that Cooper is doing, and I’m sure there are a variety of health systems who feel proud about the work that they’re doing, but this is a statewide challenge. To have that level of focus from the first lady is very, very important.”

While the maternal and infant health crisis in Camden is alarming, the overwhelming response from organizations and residents who came out to support and learn more about the issue shows great promise. We look forward to working with the first lady and our community partners through Nurture NJ and our Camden Delivers program to strengthen the quality of care and improve outcomes in this area.  

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