“Is it possible to change a culture where Black babies die at twice the rate of other babies? bi3 and Jill Miller believe so. The dedicated health-focused grant-maker is looking past short-term solutions to seek lasting change that will transform health for all people in Greater Cincinnati.
bi3 has invested more than $48 million into TriHealth and the Greater Cincinnati community over the past decade to reduce health disparities and fuel approaches that will lead to better health and healthcare.
Its founder, Bethesda Inc., is also co-sponsor of TriHealth, the leading integrated healthcare delivery system in Southwest Ohio. Achieving health equity is central to bi3’s mission.
“bi3 has been built for this moment in time,” says Miller president of Bethesda Inc. “We were committed to building equal health opportunities for all people, pre-pandemic, and are now more passionate than ever.”
“We all need to think differently and try new approaches. Short-term programs work by meeting people’s immediate needs, but if we really seek long-term change to improve overall health in our community, we must also fund policy and advocacy,” says Miller.
Through its funding, bi3 advances new ways to improve maternal health and reduce infant mortality, improve access to behavioral healthcare, address social determinants of health, and spark innovation within TriHealth.
“We know our community is facing a Black infant death crisis,” says Miller. “Black babies die at more than two times the rate of other babies born in America, regardless of their parents’ socio-economic status or health behaviors.”
In 2013, to address the racial disparities impacting infant mortality, bi3 funded a collaborative effort that included TriHealth, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Every Child Succeeds, and other organizations. The goal: Help Cincinnati’s Avondale community, which had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country.
“Our partners began by really listening to the Avondale community,” says Miller. “Then we worked with them to develop solutions.”
Mistrust of the healthcare system was identified as a barrier to care. bi3 and its partners wanted to find ways to build trust within the community, and that involved physicians talking with moms one-on-one, and getting to know not just their healthcare needs but also their physical and socioeconomic needs.
“We funded the development of a new model of care that put mom and baby at the center,” says Miller. “We discovered that a lot of health issues moms were dealing with were related to social needs, like unstable housing, food insecurity and transportation challenges.”
Over the course of 36 months, Avondale went from having an extreme preterm birth—a key driver of infant mortality—every 26 days to zero extreme preterm births for three straight years.
Last year, bi3 awarded more than $5 million in new grants to Cradle Cincinnati and TriHealth’s Good Samaritan OB-GYN Center, led by Jeremiah Kirkland, TriHealth’s Executive Director of Women’s Services, to expand the mom and baby-centered model of care. Cradle Cincinnati is now in a dozen more communities, while the OB-GYN Center is adopting Cradle Cincinnati’s approach and connecting each patient to a consistent care team that also addresses social barriers to health through community partnerships.
The two organizations work closely with one another to connect patients to resources both within the healthcare system and in their communities, as well as to share their learning and address gaps in care.
Results are promising. In Cradle Cincinnati’s recently–released annual report, the number of extreme preterm births in Hamilton County is lower than ever recorded for the second year in a row.
Building trust with the community and organizational partners was vital to the success of this new model of care. bi3 acts as a thought partner and remains flexible to adapt to changing conditions on the ground and to what is being learned through its funded initiatives.
“bi3 does more than write checks. We leverage additional resources, we make connections in the community, and we pivot when needed–all to support the success and sustainability of the efforts we fund,” says Miller, who is always looking for opportunities to tackle systemic issues.
Hence, bi3 is fueling strategies to reduce disparities and tackle long-term health challenges in the community. They are also sponsoring Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s Racial Equity Matters series as well as the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s recent six-week Racial Equity Series. Both programs seek to equip community members and leaders with skills to address racial equity within their own lives and organizations.
“The Racial Equity Matters Series explains how the structural racism that this country was built upon resulted in the health inequities we see today,” explains Miller, who admits that her own color blindness–that race doesn’t matter–has blinded her to how it does. “I now have a greater appreciation for my fellow Black Americans and the challenges they face every day. I am on a journey and invite others to join me in creating a more equitable community where all children have the same chance to thrive.”
Bethesda Inc. is located at 625 Eden Park Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For more information, visit www.bi3.org.