Healthy Start in Chicago

September 10, 2017

Giving your baby a healthy start can lay the right foundation for a lifetime of success. For 20 years, ACCESS has operated a federal program to improve infant mortality rates called Westside Healthy Start (WHS). The program serves Chicago’s West Side communities of North Lawndale, Austin, and East and West Garfield Park. As the lead agency, ACCESS works closely with key partners to assist prenatal women, mothers, and infants up to the age of 2 with health and wellness services.

Westside Healthy Start Services (WHS)*

The WHS program goal is to connect mothers to value-based prenatal care services at the beginning of their pregnancy. Program team members work in tandem with participants to ensure they attend prenatal care appointments throughout their pregnancies and after they deliver, and continuing up until their child is two years old. Following the patient-centered medical home model approach, WHS staff collaborate with the medical professionals that provide high-risk obstetric services, in addition to critical screenings, lactation support, counseling, and referrals for issues that include substance use disorders, behavioral health concerns, domestic violence and homelessness.


Westside Healthy Start Approach

The WHS program strives to reduce infant mortality rates and prevent the occurrence of low birth weight. To reach this goal, the WHS program utilizes the following approaches:

  • Improve women’s health
  • Promote quality services
  • Strengthen family resilience
  • Achieve collective impact
  • Increase accountability through quality improvement, performance monitoring and evaluation.


By utilizing these approaches, the WHS program has been able to make the following impact:

  • In 2016, more than 700 high-risk families received services from ACCESS’ Westside Healthy Start program. This included 468 pregnant women and 535 infants and children up to the age of two.
  • In 2009, (the most recent year a combined infant mortality rate for the WHS target area was currently available) the infant mortality rate for WHS program participants was 10.3 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to 15.3 deaths per 1,000 live births in the overall WHS target area.
  • Between 2014 and 2016, the infant mortality rate for WHS program participants was 7.5 deaths per 1,000 live births.


Empowering Mothers

In addition to health care services, WHS provides mothers with peer support through empowerment and leadership development. The WHS program also offers participants leadership training opportunities that are designed to create an environment of support, provide guidance, build confidence, and enhance knowledge to prepare them to become advocates for their families and communities. Mothers are also provided with transportation services and referrals to employment training, which helps to ensure that they can provide their child with a healthy start.


Male Involvement Program

ACCESS’ Male Involvement program works with WHS participants to engage their male partners to link them to social supports, but also to connect them to health care services. The program staff provide healthy educational messages on the benefits of supporting their partner and participating with the health of their children. By teaching participants parenting and life skills, the program helps to connect them to other critical resources to succeed as fathers.

For the most recent program year, 304 men participated in activities, such as their partner’s case management and medical visits and other supportive family activities.


For more information about how ACCESS is helping West Side women become the best mothers possible, Make An Appointment

*This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the grant H49MC00098, Eliminating Disparities in Perinatal Health, with a total award amount of $1,088,400. Zero percent of this project is financed with nongovernmental sources. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.


As of March 15, 2023