by Jim H. Smith
Growing up on the outskirts of Brooklyn’s sprawling Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in the 1970s, Carolyn Springer, Ph.D., associate professor in the Gordon F. Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies, noticed that there were significant life expectancy issues related to healthcare in the community. “Many people delayed getting care until it was too late,” she said.
Dr. Springer never lost interest in that problem. As a graduate student in social psychology at Columbia University, she took a job with the New York City Department of Education. The focus was on children who were chronically missing school. Many did so because of persistent health issues such as asthma.
From 1996 to 1997, she worked for the federally funded Healthy Start program, which targeted the South Bronx, Central Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant. The program strives to prevent infant mortality in communities where the rate dramatically exceeds the national average, and where rates of low birth weight, preterm birth, maternal mortality and maternal morbidity are also significantly elevated.
“I was a senior research analyst, compiling the data for planning and program development,” Dr. Springer said. She found the work so rewarding that she decided to make it the heart of her career.
Since joining Adelphi in 2003, her research has focused on the evaluation of educational and health programs for communitybased organizations, especially those involved with maternal and child health.
Her work with the Queens Comprehensive Perinatal Council, which was founded in 1988 to coordinate maternal and child health services in Queens, is a good example. It has touched on a wide range of issues, including teenage pregnancy, fatherhood, SIDS, asthma and premature births, especially in communities with high rates of teen pregnancy and low birth weight, high percentages of women who receive late or no prenatal care, risky behavior during pregnancy and undocumented immigrant populations. “Two main issues are breastfeeding and, more recently, attitudes toward mental health,” she added.
Dr. Springer has employed a variety of research tools to explore those issues. Through surveys, focus groups and workshops, for example, she and her graduate student collaborators evaluated and addressed breastfeeding patterns among African American women whose rates of breastfeeding initiation and continuation are lower than national averages.
As a program evaluator for the Brooklyn Perinatal Network, she helped complete a comprehensive health-needs assessment for North Central Brooklyn to inform policy changes in healthcare; assisted with the network’s Centers for Disease Control–funded REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) project aimed at improving healthy living; and provided support for its Infant Mortality Reductive Initiative.
“We have seen that comprehensive approaches can lead to decreases of greater than 10 percent in infant mortality rates, that there is a greater awareness among healthcare providers of the social determinants of health and that participating in educational workshops can have a significant and positive impact on selfefficacy, knowledge and attitudes about breastfeeding,” Dr. Springer said. “It’s exciting to really see change occurring—to see families take better care of their health.”