AHN Names Director for First Steps and Beyond Black Infant Mortality Initiative

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Allegheny Health Network’s (AHN) Equitable Health Institute has named Elissa Edmunds-Hunt director of First Steps and Beyond, a critical new initiative established by the network to reduce Black infant mortality and ensure that all babies born in the greater Pittsburgh region celebrate their first birthday.

Mrs. Edmunds-Hunt comes to AHN from Washington, DC, where she led community health workers of Mamatoto Village in implementing a culturally reflective perinatal health home visiting program for extremely high-risk pregnant people and women, and working to address Black maternal health disparities and improve maternal health equity. 

“We are thrilled to welcome Elissa Edmunds-Hunt as the director of First Steps and Beyond,” said Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew, MD, Med, MPPM, FACOG, Senior Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for AHN/Highmark Health. “Her success in working with at-risk Black women during and after their pregnancies, and her breadth of experience with community groups in addressing health and economic inequities makes her an ideal fit for this vitally important initiative for our organization and for the region.”

AHN’s First Steps and Beyond Program is designed to decrease Black infant mortality rates, reduce preterm birth rates, increase knowledge about safe sleep recommendations for infants, and provide additional support in the fourth trimester. This program aims to expand prenatal, perinatal, birth doula and fatherhood services as well as develop interventions for families experiencing oppression and hardship, especially due to racial inequality. In addition, the program will provide education to providers on racism and bias in healthcare and their role in preventing maternal and infant deaths. 

Fetal deaths are two times more likely among Pittsburgh’s Black women compared to white women, according to a recent report by the City of Pittsburgh Gender Equity Commission. For Black women in Pittsburgh, 18 out of every 1,000 pregnancies will end in a fetal death, compared to only nine out of every 1,000 pregnancies in white patient populations. Data shows that methods implemented to reduce the death of Black babies results in a decrease in the deaths of all babies.

“There are many committed organizations, working groups, doulas, providers, individuals and universities that have been doing this critical work in the city of Pittsburgh. I am eager to listen and align First Steps and Beyond with the existing programs in an accountable and sustainable way, and support our partner organizations and hospitals. The voices of the people experiencing these inequities must be centered at all times” Mrs. Edmunds-Hunt said. “I am excited to join Highmark Health/AHN to be a part of implementing and doing this critical and necessary work.”

Mrs. Edmunds-Hunt, a native of Pittsburgh, is a graduate of Allegheny College, where she studied global health, community and justice, and received a master’s degree in strategic communication from American University.

First Steps and Beyond is funded in part by The Heinz Endowments, the Highmark Foundation, and PNC Financial Services Group Inc.

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About the Allegheny Health Network:

Allegheny Health Network (AHN.org) is an integrated healthcare delivery system serving the greater Western Pennsylvania region.  The Network is composed of 12 hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, Health + Wellness Pavilions, an employed physician organization, home and community-based health services, a research institute, and a group purchasing organization. The Network provides patients with access to a complete spectrum of advanced medical services, including nationally recognized programs for primary and emergency care, trauma care, cardiovascular disease, organ transplantation, cancer care, orthopedic surgery, neurology and neurosurgery, women’s health, diabetes, autoimmune disease and more.  AHN employs approximately 21,000 people, has more than 2,500 physicians on its medical staff and serves as a clinical campus for Drexel University College of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine, and the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.