Wake Forest University School of Medicine Receives $1.5 Million Grant from Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust

February 28, 2024

Wake Forest University School of Medicine has been awarded $1.5 million from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust for the “Reimagining Health and Wellbeing By Mothers for Our Babies, Families and Communities” project to reduce disparities in birth and postpartum outcomes for Black and Latinx communities in Forsyth County. 

Wake Forest University School of Medicine is partnering with local non-profit Action4Equity to support community-led efforts to eliminate disparities in outcomes for moms and babies.

Dr. April Miller, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and Dr. Kathy Poehling, a pediatrician at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Brenner Children’s and professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and prevention at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, received the award, which is the largest single grant received by Wake Forest University School of Medicine from the Kate B. Reynolds Trust in the last 20 years.

The three-year project will create new models of maternal and infant care and address upstream causes of disparities. Local mothers who have lived experiences and who have received training in research will be heavily involved in the study.

“In North Carolina, the data show that African Americans, Latinos, American Indians, and those living in poverty often suffer the worst health and education outcomes,” Miller said. “We also know that the people most impacted by poor outcomes are not always included in creating solutions to these problems. As one of the few African American OB-GYN providers in Forsyth County, I am deeply committed to ensuring equitable support and resources for participants, researchers, and staff throughout the project.” 

Miller and Poehling will work closely with Forsyth Family Power, the research platform of Action4Equity. They use community-engaged research to empower families and parents with lived experiences in the research area through the collection and synthetization of data through a continual feedback loop, ensuring that community voice is at the center of the decision-making. This feedback loop converts stakeholders from decision-makers to listeners and creates a protective space for a variety of positive systems change work within the health care system. 

“Alongside Dr. Miller, our work emphasizes the need for a trauma-informed approach that includes trained professionals such as midwives with mental health training or counselors and could include a variety of healing arts and support based on the recommendations of researchers,” Poehling said. “We are dedicated to achieving equitable outcomes for our communities.” 

The community-led research project aims to foster partnerships and collaborations among shareholders and community members while emphasizing cultural responsiveness, relevance, and prioritization of community findings throughout the project. The project will also begin to implement community recommendations that resulted from the original pilot grant in 2022, such as an app that connects families to resources during and after pregnancy, also funded by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

"We celebrate this collaboration as evidence of systems change. Institutions must recognize the transformative power of shifting authority to communities to drive meaningful change,” said Kellie P. Easton, president and CEO of Action4Equity.

“Community-led research and development represent the future of health and well-being, emphasizing the importance of research equity in achieving health equity. At Action4Equity, we embody this through our extensive work in the community, which includes grassroots organizing, policy advocacy, and cultural responsiveness. Our commitment to centering community voices and experiences in the research process underscores the significance of community-led approaches. By uplifting leaders from within the community, we amplify the voices and experiences of those directly affected, driving meaningful change and fostering more inclusive and impactful solutions to address disparities in health outcomes."

Miller said the mother researchers in the community are the strength of this project. 

“This proposal flips the traditional narrative that health systems decide how to change and instead supports community-led research to address disenfranchisement and ensure the community voice is heard,” Miller said.

The project is approved by the People’s Research Council - a Forsyth County community-led initiative to put people in charge of local research - and the Wake Forest University School of Medicine Institutional Review Board. The People’s Research Council presents findings to community stakeholders and partners with health systems to address urgent issues that affect the community.

“We are profoundly grateful for the generous support provided by the Kate B. Reynolds Trust, which enables us to further our mission of advancing equitable health care access,” said Lisa Marshall, chief philanthropy officer and vice president at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist. “Their commitment aligns perfectly with our vision for a healthier, more inclusive community.” 

Those who would like to learn how they can help support “Reimagining Health and Wellbeing By Mothers for Our Babies, Families and Communities” and other philanthropic projects can contact Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist’s Office of Philanthropy and Alumni Relations at 336-716-4589 or visit Giving.wakehealth.edu.

Media contacts: 

Joe McCloskey, jmcclosk@wakehealth.edu
Jenna Kurzyna, jkurzyna@wakehealth.edu