News release: MDH presents awards for promoting the health of mothers and children

News Release
December 7, 2012
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MDH presents awards for promoting the health of mothers and children

The annual Betty Hubbard Maternal and Child Health Leadership Awards were presented today to Annamarie Saarinen of St. Paul for her work protecting children born with heart defects and Gay Bakken of Roseville for her work helping at-risk families with home visits.

The awards, which recognize leadership and achievements in promoting good health for mothers and children, were presented at a Maternal and Child Health Advisory Task Force meeting in St. Paul.

"This year's award recipients have made exceptional contributions to the health of Minnesota's mothers and children," Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger said. "The dedication of the recipients has contributed greatly to Minnesota’s reputation as a national leader in the advancement of maternal and child health."

The awards are presented in two categories. Saarinen was recognized for statewide accomplishments and Bakken was recognized for achievements at the community level.

Saarinen received the statewide award for work on assuring screening of newborns for critical congenital heart disease (CCHD). Congenital heart disease is a heart defect that affects one in every 100 newborns. She has spearheaded both state and national efforts to ensure that all newborns are screened.

Saarinen has founded two organizations – following her daughter’s diagnosis of critical congenital heart disease and the Newborn Coalition/Newborn Foundation, an organization that brings together experts to collaborate on health policy and advocacy at the national level.

Saarinen was the lead instigator and policy liaison for the Newborn Health Screening Project, a Minnesota-based project that brought together the Minnesota Department of Health with the state’s largest health systems to develop protocol for the CCHD screening of newborns. This program has since been used as a model for national standards.

In August of 2012, the Minnesota’s Newborn Screening Advisory Committee added critical congenital heart disease screening to the newborn screening protocol. Since 2010 Saarinen has assisted more than a dozen additional states in advancing adoption and implementation of heart defect screening for newborns.

In presenting the award, Commissioner Ed Ehlinger described Saarinen as "a diligent and accomplished health care policy advocate who is tireless, passionate and dedicated to the mission of assuring all newborns have an improved chance at a healthy life."

Community Award
Bakken was recognized for her work on a program that provides home visiting support to families with multiple risk factors in the Twin Cities metro area. Bakken has had a long career working in Dakota County to improve the health of mothers and children. In 1998 Bakken saw the high costs of failing to help youths. She knew there had to be a way to get ahead of the downward spiral by providing early home visiting services to at-risk families.

Bakken promoted an intensive home visiting model that could best serve families. This model became the Dakota Healthy Families program.

The goal of the program was to provide intensive services to new families to get ahead of the complex issues that can affect the health and well-being of infants and parents, such as intergenerational abuse, poverty, and not graduating from high school.

While the program was successful, it was apparent that families moved frequently to other counties. Bakken began facilitating meetings with other counties to see if they could collaborate to better serve families.

In 2007, due in part to Bakken’s efforts, the Dakota Healthy Families model expanded to the Metro Alliance for Healthy Families, which is a nine-county collaborative effort to implement this model.

Through the Metro Alliance for Healthy Families, Bakken has spearheaded the need for consistency of programs through comprehensive staff training and the adherence to a model that would assure quality for all families. The Metro Alliance for Healthy Families has delivered results. In 2011:

    • Over 3,200 families were screened and 600 families received nearly 9,000 home visits.
    • 94 percent of the families are connected to a primary care provider.
    • 92 percent of two-year olds were fully immunized.

    Due to her strong commitment to basing policy and practice on evidence and outcome data, Bakken worked with researchers from the University of Minnesota to design a study of the Dakota Healthy Families program, which was the first of its kind in the nation to demonstrate the immediate cost benefits of home visiting for at-risk families by dramatically reducing the child maltreatment report rate.

    In presenting Bakken with the community award Commissioner Ehlinger noted that "Newborns don’t come with an instruction manual. Raising healthy, successful children is a challenge for all families, and Bakken has been dedicated to helping those parents facing particularly challenging situations to succeed."

    More information can be found on the Minnesota Department of Health website at


For more information, contact:

Scott Smith
MDH Communications

DeeAnn Finley
MDH Maternal and Child Health Section