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Writing a new story to raise hope and health in Pierce County

Babies being born too small and too soon. Local youth in despair. These heartbreaking problems keep me awake at night. Recently, the Board of Health challenged staff to propose ways to improve these urgent health issues, respond to evolving needs and commit to bold new activities that can significantly change the narrative about the health of all people in Pierce County.

In July, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department staff presented our fresh thinking to our Board of Health. We used our new data visualization tool called StoryMaps. You can scroll at your own pace, watch videos and dig in to maps and charts packed with health data. Each StoryMap presents complex data and information in a fun, simple way. You can take it for a spin yourself.

Pierce County ranks lower than our neighbors in Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings. Staff dove into data to understand why. Two primary drivers are infant mortality and suicide/poisoning (in public health, these are measured in the same category and poisoning includes death by drug overdose). To respond, we designed two promising proposals to raise hope and health in Pierce County and improve our ranking:

Healthy Births for Everyone: Tobacco use by pregnant women is linked to babies being born too small and too soon. Maternal smoking rates are higher than the state for all racial groups. We propose a smoking cessation program using incentives to motivate 720 pregnant moms and their partners to quit smoking. It would also train 300 healthcare providers in screening and treatment options. This will yield short-term results, as proven in other parts of the country.

Additionally, on Oct. 29, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards will proclaim October as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Awareness Month. If we encourage new mothers to quit smoking and help people understand how safe sleep habits can reduce the risk of SIDS, more babies will go on to live healthy lives.

A teen girl helps a younger child play on a jungle gym.

Decrease Despair, Increase Hope: The Healthy Youth Survey reported 25% of 6th graders and 27% of 10th graders have seriously thought about suicide. This project would allow four schools in three districts to choose strategies that meet their needs. It would provide prevention education to 2,000 students and 30 school staff in middle schools, and screening and referral treatment for 5,000 students and 100 staff in local high schools. It will also support 1,800 parents and caregivers to strengthen their families and communities.

Last month, the Board of Health decided to seek funding for Healthy Births for Everyone. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and those who partner with us will be the first in the state to lead a public health intervention to help expecting moms and their partners quit smoking. Board of Health members are working to secure leadership investments from Pierce County and the City of Tacoma. We are inviting foundations, corporate leaders and others to help fully fund the program.

What’s your role in the story? For more information, please contact me at or (253) 579-5062.

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