Earlham College partnering with public health leaders to address the maternal health crisis in Indiana

A team of students from Earlham College students is working with the Indianapolis-based Little Timmy Project to develop educational resources underscoring the challenges of giving birth in the state. 

Crisis-level challenges. But unless you are already familiar with statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, you might have never known it was an issue. In the U.S., Indiana ranks 43rd in infant mortality and 48th in maternal mortality. The Little Timmy Project is a nonprofit that raises awareness of the issues involved and seeks to improve outcomes for Indiana’s mothers and infants.

For their part, the Earlham students are building a maternal health simulation to help people better understand the difficulties faced by a new parent. Ruthie Reichman, a junior biology and theatre arts major from Los Angeles and the student leader of the project, compares it to poverty simulations that allow participants to walk in the shoes of those who are poor.

“Poverty simulations are more widely known,” Reichman said, “but we’re trying to do something new.”

The project began in fall 2020 and will continue through the spring. “The Little Timmy Project has been very hands-on with us and are helping us make important connections across the state,” said Reichman. Students are meeting with social workers and other advocates to develop profiles of pregnant women and new mothers from low-income backgrounds living in underserved populations. 

“Many rural communities don’t have neonatal facilities at their hospitals and have to travel long distances to receive specialized care,” said Kendra Parker, a senior neuroscience major from Miami, Florida. Parker is also the president of Earlham’s chapter of the Minority Association of Pre-medical Students.

“It’s really a desert for maternal care in Indiana,” she said.

The simulation will bring real-world situations to life. “A pregnant mother is traveling to her doctor’s appointment, but she misses the bus,” Parker explains in one simulation. “Then she has to take the money she would spend on diapers to pay for a taxi to get to her appointment. 

“What if her doctor refers her to a specialist 30 miles away?” she said. “Now she has to decide between going to the specialist or buying groceries for the household. People have to sacrifice to do what’s best for their family.”

Jessie Pilewski, the associate director for Earlham’s Center for Global Health, said the COVID-19 pandemic is delaying a long-term goal of the project. “We eventually want our students to participate in these simulations or train the people giving them,” she said.

For now, the Earlham team is finishing the research needed to build out the simulations and develop pre-assembled kits to share with non-profits and community health organizations. 

This is one of eight virtual learning opportunities available to students through the Center for Global Health this spring. Other projects focus on oral care education for pediatric patients and their families, cross-generational approaches to elder care and decreasing isolation for mental health patients.

“When Earlham was forced to close last spring because of the coronavirus, I was worried about the experiences that our pre-health students could have, to maintain activity and service and exposure to clinical or public health areas,” said Peter Blair, professor of biology and director of the Center for Global Health. “The Little Timmy Project is one of these opportunities that is helping our students maintain activity that is meaningful to them but produces a deliverable that will help this organization live out its mission. All sides benefit.” 

The benefits are especially strong for Earlham students seeking careers in health care.

Parker is currently preparing for her MCAT entrance examination and is pursuing a post-baccalaureate research program before applying to an M.D./Ph.D. program. She has previous research experience as an intern for UCLA working on project regarding autism spectrum disorder in infants diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis complex. 

Reichman is also an aspiring medical doctor. “I’m really interested in women’s health and obstetrics,” she said. In her summers away from Earlham, Reichman participated in a study with physicians from Los Angeles County that explored the relationship between micro premature babies and autism. She also co-authored a pamphlet about Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, for ACEs LA, a branch of the CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACEs Study, that operates out of the Olive View-UCLA Education and Research Institute. The branch’s work recently received a nearly $3 million grant from ACEs Aware, an initiative of the California Surgeon General, to further its work.

“This project has been the right fit for my professional endeavors,” Reichman said.

Media contact

Brian Zimmerman
Director of media relations

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We continue to monitor the effects of an industrial fire 1.1 miles from campus.
We continue to monitor the effects of an industrial fire 1.1 miles from campus.