Thrive by IU Health

February 13, 2024

Reaching out to the community one teddy bear at a time

Reaching out to the community one teddy bear at a time

Community Outreach and Engagement team members focus on underserved communities. Here’s one program that aims to assist new parents.

By TJ Banes, IU Health Senior Journalist,

Behavioral Health Project Coordinator, Carrie Hesler recently spent time stuffing teddy bears into new parent bags that will be distributed into the community. Members of IU Health’s Community Health and Engagement (COE) team partnered with WeCare Indiana to customize the gifts.

WeCare is a program aimed at reducing infant mortality. According to Regenstreif Institute, Indiana’s infant mortality rate is significantly higher than the national average. One statistic reports Indiana ranks 43rd among the worst states for deaths. Among African Americans, the numbers are twice as high. Regenstreif Institute is a research organization with a mission to connect and innovate for better health. The goal of WeCare is to develop strategies to support maternal and infant health. The program works in Marion County, specifically targeting the 13 highest zip codes for infant mortality. Trained community health workers connect pregnant women and new mothers to resources addressing social determinants of health such as access to food and education opportunities. They also offer education about safe sleep practices, breastfeeding, and risk factors relating to infant mortality.

“IU Health’s Community Outreach and Engagement team has been monitoring Marion County’s greatest health needs by actively listening, partnering, and providing needed resources to community-based organizations,” said Tyrone Humphrey, COE director. “COE works to provide equitable healthcare to the underserved communities by meeting the community ‘where they are.’” Last year COE implemented more than 90 community-based health activations in collaboration with several community partners including non-profit, faith-based, and government agencies. Those efforts resulted in hypertension screenings, point of care testing (POC), COVID and Influenza vaccination clinics.

Hesler has worked with IU Health for seven years. Her interest in community health began as a child.

“At a young age my parents instilled in me the importance of service and giving back,” said Hesler. She began volunteering at Wheeler Mission, and her church and hosted food and clothing drives. “Being part of the Community Health Behavioral Health team gives me the opportunity to serve our communities, but in new ways. I want to make a difference in people’s lives.” Hesler grew up in Franklin, Ind, and attended Indiana State University where she studied Health Science and Health Administration.

Eric Reinertsen is another COE team member who helped organize the new parent gift bags. In addition to teddy bears, the 100 bags contained baby bottles, a blanket, and a mom’s journal.

A May 2023 public health graduate of Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. Reinertsen said he joined the IU Health team because the goals align with education and beliefs in improving community health outcomes.

“I believe that in order for any public health intervention to be successful, it needs to involve and empower the communities being helped,” said Reinersten. “As community health workers we get to work with patients and clients and help empower them to make positive health decisions. We also help connect community members to resources they may need like food, housing, utility assistance, and more. With those needs met, clients and patients have a foundation from which they are empowered to reach their health goals.”