CINCINNATI – Lorraine Strickland has been going to Price Hill Health Center ever since her first child was born four years ago.
Even after she moved from Price Hill to Downtown, she kept going back because of the supportive staff and the quality care that she and her children received.
"They became almost family," she said.
Strickland just had her fourth baby – a girl named Nylah – and she has noticed the center itself has had a rebirth of sorts, with fresh paint and new murals on the walls.
"It makes it feel more homey when you come in," she said.
That's the whole idea behind a massive makeover of Price Hill Health Center that started earlier this year. It's a new initiative of Cradle Cincinnati, a local nonprofit working to reduce Hamilton County's high rate of infant mortality.
In Hamilton County, 96 babies died last year out of the 10,947 born in 2014, according to Cradle Cincinnati. That gives the county an infant mortality rate of 8.8 – higher than the national rate of 6.05 deaths per 1,000 live births and among the worst in the country.
'Lifting Everyone Up'
The Price Hill Health Center is one of 23 health centers in Hamilton County that plays a critical role in reducing that rate by serving moms in poverty and their children. One in every 10 local moms either don't get prenatal care at all or don't get it until late in their third trimester, a problem that is contributing to the region's high preterm birth rate and infant mortality rate, said Ryan Adcock, Cradle Cincinnati's executive director.
While the doctors, nurses and staff at those health centers are committed to providing the best care possible, all the facilities are cash-strapped, Adcock said.
"The furniture looks like it's from the '70s, they haven't had a fresh coat of paint in years. Women don't necessarily get the kind of welcoming experience that all these center employees would like them to have," Adcock said.
The goal of the makeover is to make the health center so welcoming that women want to go there. Adcock and Ryan Mulligan, an assistant professor of fine arts at the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, hatched the idea over a cup of coffee.
A father of two, Mulligan asked what he could do to help reduce infant mortality. The answer was for him to do what he does best, said Dr. Elizabeth Kelly, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UC's College of Medicine and co-founder of Cradle Cincinnati.
So Mulligan has been collaborating with the Cincinnati Health Department, which owns and operates the Price Hill Health Center, and the people who work there to figure out how to make the space more inviting for patients.
An OB-GYN exam room has a mural with the message "You are Loved" inside the shape of a heart formed by the tips of arrows.
Another mural above a baby scale features a building arch that's reminiscent of a cathedral in Guatemala because so many of the parents in Price Hill who use the clinic are Guatemalan immigrants, Mulligan said.
A third large mural with flowers, vines and birds and animals in motion covers two walls above toys where children can play in the center's waiting area.
"One thing that's super important for our work in infant mortality is really lifting everyone up," Kelly said. "We want every woman to feel special because she is special. And going into a place with a mural or something that's a very unique one-of-a-kind piece of art – it is uplifting."
Showing 'We Care'
That's important for the people who work at the health center, too, said Kelly, who has worked in the Price Hill Health Center on and off for 20 years.
"We have physicians and nurses and midwives and medical assistants that work very, very hard in sometimes challenging neighborhood settings and see really difficult circumstances," she said. "People living in poverty or who have had something violent happen to them or who don't have food to eat. To have their work environment be really uplifting gives them more fuel, more power."
It's certainly made a difference for Jenny Glassmeyer, a nurse at the health center since 2001.
Her old office, she said, was a "milky, grayish, beige." She had a worn desk and lighting that made her space feel dark.
Now she has new furniture, softer lighting and soothing colors on her walls in addition to a space in the corner for her patients' young children to play on a mat she keeps folded under a small table when it's not in use.
"I think it just shows that we care about our environment and we care about our patients, and it just kind of has lifted us up," Glassmeyer said.
Mulligan and Samantha Messer, an art education graduate student who has been working with him on the project, have spent months talking to the doctors, nurses and other staff at the health center to figure out what would make the space more welcoming.
Nurses asked for the walls of a pediatric examination room to be painted a calming blue because so many of their young patients have trouble concentrating.
The staff requested a special waiting area for pregnant moms, which will be finished by the time the makeover is complete in July. One employee just wants a coat hook.
"It's not like the people who are working here do not absolutely love the women, the children, the families that they're serving. They're just working with less to provide for them an experience," Mulligan said.
Next Up: Winton Hills
Assembling the resources for the project hasn't been easy.
Cradle Cincinnati gave Mulligan a small grant, and he has gotten money and in-kind contributions from such companies as Formica, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and Pottery Barn.
Local artists and art students have volunteered time and talents on weekends. Health center staff members have come back on weekends to help de-clutter the space and paint, too, Mulligan said.
"Ryan has learned that people are really compelled by this story, and it's so tangible, and they want to help," Adcock said.
Downtown-based GBBN Architects is helping by renovating a conference room in the health center in addition to the space that the center's staff uses for WIC, the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program.
The firm wants to make the conference room more flexible and modern and will create a safe, distracting play area for children who accompany their moms to WIC visits. GBBN also will provide more comfortable furniture in the WIC room and will allow for privacy when moms are practicing how to breastfeed their newborns, said Angela Mazzi, a GBBN associate.
The architecture firm took on the project as its annual volunteer, or "give back," activity, said GBBN's Scott Vidourek.
"Our health care team is studying the concept of public health and making it more than the doctor's office," Mazzi said. "We thought this would be a perfect way to get the entire office engaged."
The work won't stop in Price Hill.
Winton Hills Health Center is next in line for a makeover project to start in September, Mulligan said.
That one is being sponsored entirely by KDM P.O.P. Solutions Group, a company that specializes in making retail spaces more welcoming for customers.
The company has committed to spending about $10,000 in addition to using their own in-house printing and design teams, Mulligan said.
GBBN CEO Matthew Schottelkotte said he expects his firm will help with more health center makeovers, too.
Mulligan and Adcock hope KDM's work will be a model for other local companies that want to adopt a health center and be responsible for its makeover.
It will take time, but Adcock hopes all of the 23 health centers in the county eventually will get the same kind of special treatment that Price Hill Health Center is getting now.
Mulligan and Messer said they're just glad to be contributing what they can.
"We can't solve infant mortality. This is what we can do, though," Messer said. "If everybody does what they can do, then maybe we as a community will."
To learn more about Cradle Cincinnati or to find out how your company can help with the health clinic project, go to http://www.cradlecincinnati.org. To find out volunteer opportunities with Cradle Cincinnati, go to its Facebook page.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO this year.