Bernadette (Bernie) Kerrigan Chosen as Inaugural Executive Director of First Year Cleveland

First Year Cleveland, in partnership with the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, has selected Bernadette (Bernie) Kerrigan as the founding executive director of this recently established organization that will work to reduce infant mortality in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.

“Bernie is enormously well suited for this important position,” said Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley. “She brings more than 26 years of stellar experience at non-profit social service agencies that have improved health and human service programs, implementing strong management initiatives, and expanding community investment in numerous ways. We are confident that these same skills and abilities will prove instrumental in our commitment to reduce infant mortality in our city and county.”

First Year Cleveland, which was formally announced in December 2015, is a collaboration of government, non-profit, and health care organizations. To date it has been awarded almost $5 million from the Ohio Department of Medicaid with additional support of $1.5 million from Cuyahoga County, and $500,000 from the City of Cleveland. Mayor Frank Jackson and County Executive Armond Budish are co-chairs of First Year Cleveland’s board of directors.

Cleveland’s infant mortality rate -- the number of babies who die before reaching their first birthday -- is roughly 13 per 1,000 live births, more than double the national average. African-American babies born in the area are more than three as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday.

Ms. Kerrigan received her BSW in social work from Ohio State University and completed master-level social work courses at Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. She also holds certificates in project development from Kent State University.

Ms. Kerrigan began her career as a medical and perinatal social worker at University Hospitals. She joined United Way of Cleveland in 1989, where she led a community process to invest over $300 million into health and human services over a seventeen-year period. She then served as chief talent officer and chief operating officer at the Centers for Families and Children, a $62 million nonprofit organization. In these positions she was instrumental in streamlining and expanding operations while raising capital and forming various community partnerships.

She is a single mother of two foster-to-adopt children, Emma and Kiara Kerrigan.

Earlier this year, Council President Kevin Kelley, joined by Mayor Frank G. Jackson and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, brought together officials from foundations, medical institutions, community organizations and community leaders to form First Year Cleveland. As its first executive director, one of Ms. Kerrigan’s initial tasks will be to pull together existing programs and local efforts to lower infant mortality and look for partners and funders to expand successful programs.

The Ohio Department of Medicaid in June awarded First Year Cleveland $3 million to assist various initiatives, including prenatal programs, home visitations for first-time mothers and infant care training for fathers. In addition to the $500,000 recently awarded to First Year Cleveland by the city of Cleveland, and the $1.5 million promised by the county over the next two years, foundations -- such as the Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation, with Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland -- have invested nearly $2 million in a nurse-home visiting program shown to lower infant mortality and MetroHealth Medical Center received a state grant of about $560,000 to institute a similar program
Focusing on areas in our community with the highest levels of infant mortality, First Year Cleveland programs include: 1) CenteringPregnancy that provides group prenatal care to decrease preterm birth, the biggest contributor to infant death; 2) tobacco cessation efforts among pregnant women (as many as one in three women smoke during their pregnancy); 3) Home Visiting that supports at-risk pregnant women and families; and 4) fatherhood initiatives that teach caring for new babies.

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is providing at no cost a team of executives and resources, including space to house the program. As First Year Cleveland’s fiscal agent, the School of Medicine will process grants and oversee related financial and administrative activities. “We have long invested in community partnerships and programs that work to improve health in our community,” said Pamela B. Davis, MD, PhD, dean of the School of Medicine and senior vice president for medical affairs. “We are proud to be part of the team that helped select Bernie and are thrilled that she will be leading such a vital project for Northeast Ohio. We will continue to share our expertise with her and all of our outstanding partners at First Year Cleveland.”

Ms. Kerrigan will begin her new duties immediately. “I am honored to have been selected for this position,” she said. “As we all know, there is no quick fix to the complex challenge of reducing infant mortality. It will take persistence, collaboration, dedication, and creativity. I am committed to doing all I can to execute the best solutions through the most effective delivery systems on behalf of infants and their families in our area.”


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Founded in 1843, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is the largest medical research institution in Ohio and is among the nation's top medical schools for research funding from the National Institutes of Health. The School of Medicine is recognized throughout the international medical community for outstanding achievements in teaching. The School's innovative and pioneering Western Reserve2 curriculum interweaves four themes--research and scholarship, clinical mastery, leadership, and civic professionalism--to prepare students for the practice of evidence-based medicine in the rapidly changing health care environment of the 21st century. Nine Nobel Laureates have been affiliated with the School of Medicine.

Annually, the School of Medicine trains more than 800 MD and MD/PhD students and ranks in the top 25 among U.S. research-oriented medical schools as designated by U.S. News & World Report's"Guide to Graduate Education."

The School of Medicine is affiliated with University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, MetroHealth Medical Center, the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the Cleveland Clinic, with which it established the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University in 2002.

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