Seeds that turned into grass roots.
In 1962 President John F. Kennedy asked the states to focus on ways to treat and prevent mental retardation. In response, a committee chaired by J.D. Thompson, M.D., the Chief of Emory University’s Ob/Gyn Department at Grady Memorial Hospital, developed a written initiative called "A Proposed Plan to Prevent Mental Retardation Through Improved Maternal and Infant Care." The plan included strong statewide efforts to educate Georgians about the issues surrounding maternal and infant health. In fact, this report recommended that the Governor appoint a Maternal Health Council to serve in an advisory capacity to establish and maintain standards of perinatal health. However, it would be well into the next decade before such a council was established by law.In keeping with the goals of improving perinatal outcomes, in 1968 two groups came together to establish “Operation Stork.” The Jewish Women International (led by Charlotte Wilen) and the March of Dimes started this outreach and educational program for pregnant women at the South Fulton Clinic. They offered free layettes and maternity clothes as incentives for women who visited the clinic for prenatal care. Soon, their program expanded to Grady Hospital's prenatal clinic, and through a consortium of additional women's organizations - including the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, the Jewish Women International, the Georgia Federation of Women's Clubs, the Service Guild, and the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority/Epsilon Chapter - many other focused educational projects were also born. These programs also ensured continued dialogue between the healthcare professionals and community advocacy groups. In particular, Drs. Dan Thompson and W. Newton Long were instrumental in making these community advocacy groups aware of the high costs and consequences of low birth weight babies.
By 1972, the women's consortium of advocates had been formally established as “Better Infant Births March of Dimes” and they held a statewide conference calling for legislation to create a Maternal Council of Georgia. This legislation, House Bill 1044, was introduced by Representative Sidney Marcus, was passed by the General Assembly, and was signed into law by Governor Jimmy Carter. Just two years later, its mission was expanded to include the infant, and the body became the “Council of Maternal and Infant Health” of the State of Georgia. The M&I Council served as an advisory body to the Governor. One of the first actions of the M&I Council was to call for a statewide conference/workshop focusing on the quality of life in Georgia. The title of this event was “Continuum.” The co-sponsors were the M&I Council and The National Foundation March of Dimes. More than forty other professional, voluntary, community, and governmental agencies in Georgia participated in this conference.
“Continuum Alliance for Human Development” was a byproduct of that statewide conference as a way for community citizens to align with the M&I Council and continue as a voice for Georgia’s mothers and children. It was incorporated as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in 1973 and was led by Charlotte Wilen for many years. In the late 1980’s, a national advocacy organization called “Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies” approached the “Continuum Alliance” asking that the Continuum become its Georgia affiliate. Recognizing that the national organization had the same goals as Georgia’s Continuum Alliance, the organization officially changed its name to “Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia” in 1992.
Today, Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia (“HMHB”) continues to serve as a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of concerned citizens who educate and advocate for improving the health of Georgia’s mothers, babies and families. HMHB has strong ties with the state agencies and the medical communities that serve women and children. And, through the PowerLine, HMHB also has direct firsthand knowledge from its callers of the medical needs and issues facing our families in this state. We continue to track the gaps, the overlaps, and the cross-ups that affect the delivery of care in our state. We synthesize the information and work with all those involved to seek implementation of efficient solutions that improve care and often reduce costs.