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Georgia Department of Public Health Names New Director of Infant Mortality

July 7, 2014

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) welcomes Maria Fernandez as the director of Infant Mortality within the Maternal and Child Health section. In her new role, Fernandez will collaborate with other teams within DPH, whose work has an impact on perinatal outcomes, including promotion of breastfeeding, safe sleep practices, tobacco cessation and community-based interventions within targeted clusters with a high incidence rate of infant mortality.

“We are very excited to have Maria on board,” said Seema Csukas, M.D., Ph.D., director, DPH Maternal and Child Health Section. “We are doing some great things in addressing infant mortality and working with many partners within DPH and outside DPH.  Maria’s communication background and work with the medical community will be an asset to moving this work forward and keeping everyone informed of our collective progress.”

Ten years ago the infant mortality rate in Georgia was 8.5 per 1,000 live births. That rate was approximately 20 percent higher than the national average. Since that time, the rate has dropped to 6.8, but Georgia still has a long way to go.

“We have made huge progress and 1,000 babies are alive in our state today because of our efforts,” said Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., DPH commissioner. “With the addition of Maria to our Maternal and Child Health team, I anticipate even greater progress as we work toward reducing Georgia’s infant mortality rate.”

Fernandez also will partner with David Levine, M.D., neonatologist, and Catherine Bonk, M.D., obstetrician/gynecologist, who co-chair a statewide perinatal quality collaborative. Through these collaborations, Fernandez and her partners will develop and implement strategies that leverage their respective expertise and resources to advance efforts to address contributing factors that lead to preterm and low birth weight babies, and in reducing harm to babies within the first year of life. The results of these efforts are published annually in the Reducing Infant Mortality Annual Report, with the 2013 report slated to be released summer 2014.

“One preventable death is one death too many,” said Fernandez. “Reducing the infant mortality rate in Georgia has been a priority for DPH since it became a stand-alone agency in 2011. I look forward to working shoulder-to-shoulder with all the dedicated people at DPH and throughout Georgia that have done so much already to protect these precious lives.”

Before coming to DPH, Fernandez worked for seven years as the physician communications consultant for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. She worked with the Chief Medical Officer on physician alignment and clinical integration initiatives. She also worked closely with the Quality Department to implement evidence-based practices and zero-defect principles into delivering safer, more effective care to pediatric patients.

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