Sep 24, 2012, 1:52 PM
Ruth Ann Shepherd, MD, division director for maternal and child health in the Kentucky Department for Public Health, was an early pioneer in recognizing the critical public health problem of preterm births in Kentucky, and that the troubling trend was common to most states in the country. Dr. Shepherd’s research revealed that babies born at 37 or 38 weeks had far worse health outcomes than babies born at 39 or 40 weeks. With support from the leadership at the Kentucky Department of Health, and many other organizations who have since taken up the cause of helping to create conditions for healthier babies, many states are beginning to make strides in preventing early births. Last week, Dr. David Lakey acknowledged her leadership in preventing preterm birth and infant mortality by awarding her the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) Presidential Meritorious Service Award.
Charles Kendell, MPA, chief of staff at the Kentucky Health Department, accepted the award on behalf of Dr. Shepherd, who was unable to attend the ASTHO meeting. NewPublicHealth caught up with Kendall to get his take on Kentucky’s role in catalyzing a national movement around healthier babies.
NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the award Dr. Shepherd received and what it was for.
Kendell: The award today was given by David Lakey as President of ASTHO for the last year. The Presidential Meritorious Service Award is given at the ASTHO president’s discretion for those he feels have contributed the most to the President’s Challenge that he or she has championed for the year. This year, he awarded it Dr. Ruth Shepherd, who was one of the early advocates for doing something about the prematurity birth rates in the country.
Dr. Shepherd has long championed that concern, and it was through her efforts that much of the initial data and advocacy and publicity about the issue became apparent to a lot of people. Through the connection of Dr. Shepherd to David Lakey, he was able to put a voice and a voice to the issue through his presidency. It’s really taken off from there, and connected with an awful lot of people.
NPH: What did the data Dr. Shepherd uncovered show?