New advisory group aims to improve pregnancy, postpartum care in Pa. | Five for the Weekend

The advisory group will hold its first meeting virtually next month, according to the department

By: - August 6, 2022 6:30 am

Isolation and other pandemic stresses can harm pregnant women’s mental health, with effects on their babies too (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images/The Conversation).

Happy weekend, all. 

Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced the creation of an advisory group to improve pregnancy and postpartum care support across the commonwealth.

Known as the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Advisory Group, it’s tasked with “providing support to increase healthier pregnancies and postpartum care,” according to the department.

“From my work as an OBGYN physician, I know how important it is that women, children and infants receive the right nutrition during pregnancy, post-pregnancy and throughout the child’s development,” acting Secretary of Health and Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson said. “The advisory group will make recommendations to connect resources to women, infants and children across Pennsylvania to ensure the highest number of those eligible benefit from this program and are aware of the services available to them. I look forward to working with this group to identify solutions and positively impact Pennsylvania families for generations to come.”

Sixteen DOH-appointed members make up the advisory group, including:

  • Theodore Deitman, District Manager, Maternal and Family Health Services, Towanda
  • Gerria Coffee, Owner and Founder, Genesis Birth Services, Williamsport
  • Melanie Readal, Public Health Administrator, Allegheny County Health Department, Pittsburgh   
  • Charlotte Dorsey, WIC Education Manager, York
  • Cathy Moffit, WIC Director, Mon Valley Community Health Services Inc., Monessen
  • Raeni Yock, WIC parent, Johnstown
  • Katja Pigur, Senior Director of Programs and Business Development, Maternity Care Coalition, Philadelphia    
  • Carol Gerner, Food Equity Ambassador, Pittsburgh
  • Danielle Morgan, Distribution Center Coordinator, Genesis of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh
  • Kelly Kane, Lead Physician at UPMC CCP, Altoona
  • Lisa Sanchez, CPA and medical liaison, Community Health Services, Linesville   
  • Mim Seidel, Assistant Professor, Chatham University, Pittsburgh
  • Britney Zwergel, Senior Director of Nutrition Services, Adagio Health, Pittsburgh
  • Brian Whorl, Division of Federal Programs Director, Department of Human Services, Office of Income Maintenance, Bureau of Policy, Harrisburg
  • Alex Baloga, President and CEO, Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, Wormleysburg
  • Michael Howells, Director of Research and Association Services, Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, Wormleysburg

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said that inequities in maternal health care would be an area of interest for the advisory group as it begins its work.

The commonwealth’s infant mortality rate was 5.9 per 1,000 live births in 2019, the most recent year for which data are available. 

The infant mortality rate among Black infants in Pennsylvania was more than double that of white infants at 11.2 per 1,000 live births. 

Similarly, the Capital-Star has previously reported that pregnancy-related deaths grew by more than 21 percent in the five years between 2013 and 2018.  

The advisory group will hold its first meeting virtually next month, according to the department.

As always, the top five stories from this week are below. 

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman (L) and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mehmet Oz (R)
Campaign file photos

1. This week is a good time to be a Pennsylvania Democrat | Fletcher McClellan

Pennsylvania Democrats received good news last week from a Fox News poll showing their candidates for governor and U.S. Senator with strong leads over their Republican rivals.

According to the survey, taken July 22-26 with a +/- 3% margin of error, Attorney General Josh Shapiro leads State Senator Doug Mastriano, 50% to 40%. This is a big improvement for Shapiro, whose lead in polls taken in June was 3-4 points, within the margin of error.

In the U.S. Senate race, Lt. Governor John Fetterman stretched his June advantage to double digits over Republican nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz, 47%-36%.

Nurse Aspara Banjara, vaccinating 11-year-old Chloe Imoisili of Harrisburg on Wednesday at the old Department of Healths vaccination clinic in Kline Plaza in Harrisburg (Commonwealth of Pa. photo).

2. Philadelphia announces targeted vaccine response to monkeypox

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced that five local health clinics have been allocated doses of monkeypox vaccine for distribution to individuals at high risk for exposure. The clinics are Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia FIGHT, Presbyterian Hospital, Drexel Partnership, and Penn Medicine. Each clinic is reaching out to specific patients for vaccination. At this time, walk-in appointments are not available.

For people who are at high risk and/or who may have been exposed to monkeypox but are not patients of the five clinics, the health department states on their website that they are “encouraged to call the Health Department’s Call Center at 215-685-5488. The call takers will review eligibility and set a vaccine appointment if eligible.” The health department noted that people who are experiencing symptoms of monkeypox or have been diagnosed with monkeypox cannot be vaccinated.

(Photo by Scott Nelson/Getty Images)

3. U.S. Senate fails to advance burn pits bill for veterans in dispute over spending

The U.S. Senate came up short Wednesday in trying to move ahead on legislation that would provide health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits overseas.

The bill, from Montana Democratic Sen. John Tester and Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran, has been bogged down for nearly two months as U.S. lawmakers debated whether to bring amendments to the floor and how exactly to fix a minor part of the bill that stalled the process in the House.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 55-42 to advance the bill toward final passage, but that did not meet a 60-vote threshold and the legislation stalled, though supporters could call for another vote.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., speaks during the first post-pandemic meeting of the Pennsylvania Press Club on Monday 6/28/21 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

4. Pa. Sen. Toomey faces heat from Jon Stewart, veterans over burn pit legislation

Citing a provision that he said would lead to an “explosion” in federal spending, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey was one of 41 Republican senators who voted this week to block legislation that would have expanded health care benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during their service.

In a speech on the Senate floor this week, Toomey outlined his reasoning for voting against the measure and expressed his desire to amend the bill and fix the provision. But in halting the legislation – known as the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or the PACT Act – Toomey earned a high-profile foe in the process: former host of “The Daily Show” Jon Stewart.

Stewart, who has long advocated for veterans’ issues, as well as for the families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, blasted Senate Republicans for not mustering the votes needed to avoid a filibuster.

(Image via

5. New Pa. budget includes $140M boost to state’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate program

Inflation is causing price hikes all around Pennsylvania, but the new state budget is looking to ease one cost for the elderly and people living with disabilities.

The $45.2 billion state budget that Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law last week, providing a $140 million increase to the state’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program, an action that will expand payments by 70 percent for one year.

Pennsylvanians living with a disability, widows who are aged 50 and older and general residents 65 or older can qualify. The program has income limits, excluding half of Social Security income, for homeowners with an annual income under $35,000 or renters that earn under $15,000 annually.

And that’s the week. We’ll see you back here next week.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.