April/May Newsletter | The Measure of Public Health

Greetings Deaconess Community,

In April we joined millions across the country in recognition of National Public Health Week and Black Maternal Health Week by honoring the legacy and contributions of those who have made and are making strides to improve the health and well-being of our people and communities in the bi-state region.

I began the month by celebrating the profound legacy of Dr. William C. Banton II, the first director of the St. Louis County Department of Health at the John C. Murphy Health Center in Berkeley. This year Dr. Kanika Cunningham, the director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, set out to honor Dr. Banton and recognize the lasting impact he has had on the healthcare community. He began his tenure at the Health Department in 1973. Dr. Banton designed the county’s Department of Community Health and Medical Care. He was known as a trailblazer who “modernized the office” by designing and implementing a new, modern health department. In addition to many professional accolades, leadership roles, teaching at medical school hospitals, and serving as a war veteran with a high ranking, Dr. Banton was also known for his genuine care and concern for patients.

Notably, after earning his medical degree from Howard University in 1946, Dr. Banton interned at Homer G. Phillips Hospital — the only teaching hospital west of the Mississippi River to produce black doctors and nurses and to serve the city’s Black residents. While interning, Dr. Banton met his wife Dr. Milagros T. Roman Banton. She and her children attended the celebration honoring her late husband.

Mid-month, during Black Maternal Health Week, I had the privilege of joining community partners in support of the introduction of the Missouri Birth Index report. In partnership with the National Birth Equity Collaborative (NBEC), St. Louis Integrated Health Network (IHN) published a report on birth equity in our region that identifies the impact of indicators of social determinants of health (e.g. access to healthy foods and transportation) and root causes (e.g. gender inequality in earnings, housing, and education) in relation to racial disparities in infant mortality. The Index reflects that Black infant mortality is significantly higher than White infant mortality across multiple counties in Missouri. Similarly, nationwide Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women, as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports. With the Index, advocates in Missouri now have a tool to call in healthcare providers and governing bodies to do their part to achieve equal outcomes for Black babies that affect the families, neighborhoods, and the bi-state region in which we live.

“Birth Equity,” as the report states, “is the belief that all people are valued, have fundamental human rights, and should be supported by their governments and health systems to achieve the best possible health outcomes across the reproductive lifespan.”

The science now confirms that the bodies of Black women in this nation carry and pass along trauma and toxic stress in utero, affecting the lives and birth outcomes of mother and child. I advocate for whole woman health and well-being inclusive of but not limited to her reproductive years. This is an important first step among many more that must be taken to equalize life outcomes for all people.

Women and birthing people from all walks of life are coming together in this region thinking generationally for health and well-being. As April was the designated time to celebrate public health, we recognize all public health servants who help our region realize health equity and health justice including St. Louis County Department of Health Director Dr. Kanika Cunningham, St. Louis County Deputy Director, Department of Public Health Kate Donaldson, St. Louis City Director of Health Dr. Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis, and City of St. Louis Commissioner of Health Victoria Anwuri.

In service to the will of the Spirit and the mission,

Bethany Johnson-Javois
President & CEO
Deaconess Foundation

Read the full April/May eNewsletter here.