BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Significant change can stem from a small
adjustment. In the case of infant and mother mortality in Buffalo,
improving communication can save lives.
The University at Buffalo's Ophelia Morey, associate librarian
in the Health Sciences Library, and Helen Wang, assistant professor
in the Department of Communication in the UB College of Arts and
Sciences, are working to improve prenatal and perinatal health by
combining their experience in community outreach,
information-seeking behavior, communication, and community health
Their project, "Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies: Developing
Information Communication Strategies for Reducing Infant and
Maternal Mortality Rates in Buffalo," will conduct research with
Buffalo Prenatal-Perinatal Network Inc. (BPPN) aimed at encouraging
UB's Civic Engagement and Public Policy initiative (CEPP)
awarded the pair a grant for their research. Using resources from
various disciplines in academia, Morey and Wang will launch a
project to create a more knowledgeable community that results in
more successful births and healthier environments for mothers and
their babies. UB Civic Engagement fellows receive up to $3,500 for
their community-based research projects.
Morey and Wang say their work is about "social responsibility,"
and their roles in the community and university will intertwine as
they pursue their research. Morey is coordinator of Community
Outreach Service at HSL and a committee member for the Near East
West Side Task Force and the P" Collaborative of WNY Inc. Wang is
research assistant professor for the Department of Community Health
and Health Behavior in the UB School of Public Health and Health
Professions. Wang's extensive studies in communication and public
health and Morey's history in Buffalo and health literacy outreach
work as a health sciences librarian provide a strong foundation for
"It doesn't become personal until you are in the community and
hear the stories," says Morey, who as a volunteer was shocked by
the infant/mother mortality rates in Buffalo.
"I know those neighborhoods -- I grew up in those
neighborhoods," she says.
Their project was born during a course taught by Wang,
"Information and Communication Technologies for Wellness
Promotion," that Morey attended. A class assignment prompted Morey
to develop a proposal that is applicable and useful in her
community outreach efforts, and allows the two faculty members to
use their unique perspectives to develop the project.
They will work with BPPN to target groups associated with
high-risk pregnancies and births due to little or no
prenatal/perinatal care, including young substance-using, homeless,
refugee or immigrant mothers, groups that offer research
opportunities for lowering infant/mother mortality rates.
The work of previous researchers with similar goals can be
traced historically to Buffalo, and they show not only the constant
need, but the potential for societal progress. According to Planned
Parenthood of WNY's website, during in the 19th and 20th centuries,
most birth-related fatalities resulted from a lack of knowledge.
Since then, New York State has repealed obscenity laws forbidding
women from pursuing information and resources about reproductive
health, continuing to lower the infant/mother mortality rates.
Promising results such as these make this type of research
worthwhile, Morey and Wang say.
Research of this nature has the potential to transcend
statistics, and change lives on the most personal, intimate level.
"Applied work grounded in theories," is what Wang identifies as the
key to success for this project. The formula for building what the
pair refers to as an effective "communication infrastructure"
incorporates many different systems of communication and
foundational information seeking.
There are two main layers of information Morey and Wang are
working to permeate. They will seek geographical information, in
order to target neighborhoods that are in need, as well as
behavioral patterns among clients, that will lead to effective
developments in information communication strategies.
Small changes to fine-tune information communication systems
between health-care providers, community outreach services and
mothers will lead to a more effective system. Morey and Wang have
met with the CEO of the non-profit BPPN to begin developing
preliminary plans that involve the management, workers and
The goal is to acknowledge the needs of the community, and to
facilitate health information communication that will meet these
needs. Morey and Wang hope the research will help ensure that all
mothers, no matter what the circumstances, have access to prenatal
and perinatal care.