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South Georgia Healthy Start Has Received $5.5 Million in Renewal Funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration

South Georgia Healthy Start at the Mercer University School of Medicine has received $5.5 million in funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration under the leadership of Principal Investigator Dr. Jennifer Barkin.

The Healthy Start Initiative: Eliminating Disparities in Perinatal Health grant supports the continuation of the South Georgia Healthy Start (SGHS) program in providing direct and enabling services to at-risk mothers and families as part of a proven, wide-ranging infant and maternal health initiative. SGHS facilitates access to medical care, including mental healthcare, and community-based resources to South Georgia families in need. SGHS’s case management, care coordination, and group-based health education services increase the uptake of healthy behaviors in the perinatal period and reinforce the use of healthy and safe infant and toddler care practices. Additionally, SGHS facilitates a diverse Community Consortium comprised of local- and state-level partners to develop actionable steps to advise SGHS services and promote systems change to improve infant and maternal health.

SGHS serves expecting mothers, fathers, and those parenting babies up to 18 months of age in 10 HRSA-designated rural counties in South Georgia (Appling, Bulloch, Candler, Emanuel, Evans, Jefferson, Jenkins, Screven, Tattnall, and Toombs counties).

Principal Investigator/Project Director Dr. Jennifer Barkin is a Professor of Community Medicine and OBGYN at the Mercer University School of Medicine and a University of Pittsburgh (School of Public Health)-trained biostatistician and epidemiologist.  Germane to the core mission of Healthy Start, Dr. Barkin is an internationally-recognized expert in maternal mental health and postpartum functioning; her intellectual property, the Barkin Index of Maternal Functioning is being used in commercial, academic, community-based, and clinical settings.

In calendar year 2023, SGHS served a record 960 individuals (infants, pregnant/postpartum women, fathers), supplied 314 baby care kits (car seats, pack and plays, breast pumps), and distributed approximately 400 baby books/developmental toys (among other items). In addition, SGHS provided year-round, supplementary educational programming to participants and the public. Topics included (but were not limited to) maternal early warning signs, breastfeeding, infant safe sleep practice, self-care practice, and visualization as a method of stress relief. Most notably, during the initial five-year grant cycle, the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) in the SGHS Project Area decreased by almost three points.

In a discussion with top HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration) officials, Dr. Barkin was asked to describe SGHS’s work: “The greatest key to our success was, quite frankly, our staff. We have a group of rabid women’s health advocates on our team. They are passionate and self-motivated, and most have lived experience as mothers or caregivers. Their initiative and passion make my job much easier, and I know our participants are in good hands with them. (paraphrased)”

Please call or text us at 478.973.1093 if you are interested in learning more about South Georgia Healthy Start. Or visit the SGHS website, Facebook page, or LinkedIn page.