BMO Harris Bank announced last Monday that it will donate $750,000 to United Way of Greater Milwaukee to help fuel the ongoing fight against infant mortality in the area.
According to the City of Milwaukee Health Department, 98 infants died in 2010, when the infant morality rate for the city as a whole was 9.5 per 1,000 births. In 2011, the infant mortality rate increased to 9.7, according to unverified data from the health department’s website.
Kara Kaiser, the southeast Wisconsin regional president of M&I, which is a part of the BMO Financial Group, said the financial group donated the money as a way to “be part of the efforts against infant mortality.”
“The infant mortality rate is not how we want to be defined in Milwaukee,” Kaiser said. “We care about the same things our customers care about, and we wanted to make an investment in something that matters to us all. The well-being of children is something that preoccupies us in all of our markets. The city’s efforts in support of healthy birth outcomes is something we knew we wanted to be part of.”
Nicole Angresano, a vice president of United Way of Greater Milwaukee, said in an email that the donation will be used to support programs that have demonstrated success in achieving healthy birth outcomes.
“We are so lucky and grateful to live in a community with such generous businesses,” Angresano said. “When BMO acquired M&I, I think there was a real concern that M&I’s long-standing tradition of serving this community might be in danger. But BMO Harris has made it very clear that it is going to continue to engage in bold, high-impact philanthropy in our city — and we are all going to reap the benefits of it’s sense of corporate responsibility.”
Angresano said United Way is committed to investing in programs that will help families succeed and allow babies to make it to their first birthdays.
“Save lives. Period,” Angresano said of the program’s goal. “We are talking about real babies not making it to their first birthdays — there is no more important outcome than ensuring that all babies are born healthy and ready to thrive.”
United Way has awarded a portion of the donation, $150,000 over three years, to Progressive Community Health Centers, which plan to use the donation to help strengthen their obstetrics program. These centers are located in Milwaukee neighborhoods particularly affected by infant mortality.
“Progressive Health Center is a high-performing medical home that serves families, many of whom are at great risk for poor birth outcomes,” Angresano said. “United Way and Progressive have partnered in the past, and their work is culturally competent and of very high quality.”
Sarah Andritsch, the marketing manager for Progressive Community Health Centers, said in an email that the $50,000 annual gift will be used to hire a full-time registered nurse who will work exclusively with women’s health and prenatal patients.
“This is a new role at our health center that we were previously unable to fund,” Andritisch said. “The nurse will assist our women’s health team with care coordination activities for our most at-risk pregnant patients.”
Andritsch said the donation was a “welcome surprise.”
“We knew that BMO Harris and United Way were committed to making an investment in Milwaukee’s community health centers, and we were very pleased to learn that the lead gift would be a multi-year grant directed toward Progressive Community Health Centers to address the infant mortality crisis in our city,” Andritsch said.
In 2011, 255 women received prenatal care from Progressive Community Health Centers. More than 21 percent of those patients were under age 20, according to Andritsch. More than 77 percent of their prenatal patients began care during their first trimester of pregnancy.
“Community health centers are critical to the future of health care,” Andritsch said. “Although health care is a very politically charged and contentious topic, community health centers have embraced bipartisan support since their inception.”