The CARESTAR Foundation is pleased to announce the 2022 recipient of the Leighton Memorial Award is the Better Birthing Coalition, a local partnership between the K'ima:w Medical Center and Providence St. Joseph Hospital, working with local tribes to build relationships and increase trust between the hospital in Eureka and the Native communities it serves.
Established in 2018, this $100,000 award is given out annually to a collaborative in a rural, frontier, or tribal area that has demonstrated success in improving emergency and prehospital care with a focus on addressing inequity. It seeks to further the legacy of Jeff Leighton, a key advisor to the CARESTAR Foundation during the early days of the organization’s development.
This year's recipient, the Better Birthing Coalition was selected for its community-centered approach and its willingness to listen to and adapt systems-level policies and practices impacting Native birthing people.
In 2021, supported by With/In Collaborative, a human-centered design firm, Providence Humboldt County launched the Better Birthing Coalition to address health inequities that were identified in a community needs assessment. The group’s goal was to shift perinatal services so that Native birthing people feel more seen, heard, and respected as patients at St. Joseph Hospital. One of the first steps was to create a design team that not only included medical practitioners from the St. Joseph Hospital Labor and Delivery unit but also included equal representation of people that identified as Native American, lifting community voices and centering the experiences of those the hospital was trying to serve.
“As an organization that strongly values diversity, equity and inclusion, we at St. Joseph Hospital believe in continuing our partnership with our Native communities to develop health care policies and practices, and work to build trust and accountability into the system,” said Martha Shanahan, director of Community Health Investment, Providence in Humboldt County.
The core work of the Better Birthing Coalition was to conduct extensive interviews with Native parents to identify the challenges in their birth experience, and then consider solutions for improvement. One of the main issues highlighted was a California state law that required the registration of a newborn within 10 days of birth. Many Native families follow a cultural tradition of dedicating the 10th day of a newborn’s life to a sacred naming ceremony, a tradition that conflicted with existing state law. Using input and data gathered from local community members and Native-led organizations, Providence Humboldt County advocated for legislation at the state level to extend the time for families to register the birth of a child from in CA from 10 to 21 days. After months of effort, AB 2176 was introduced by Assemblymember Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa. It was unanimously passed by the state assembly and senate and signed into law by Governor Newsom in June 2022.
“We are so impressed with the Better Birthing Coalition’s authentic engagement and deep desire to be in relationship with the Native community members it serves,” said Tanir Ami, chief executive officer of the CARESTAR Foundation. “This collaborative is a wonderful example of what can be accomplished when a larger system of care values the needs and voices of the local community and is willing to change practices as a result.”
An expert in the areas of non-profit foundation development, operations, finance, and investment management, Jeff Leighton was instrumental in helping CARESTAR incorporate as an organization. His illness and subsequent death during this process led the Board of Directors to establish the Leighton Memorial Award to recognize Leighton’s outstanding contributions to the CARESTAR Foundation, and to support regions that often find themselves without critical medical care for residents, something Leighton and his family experienced during his own health struggles.
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