Sandra Flores has been appointed the first program director of the Fresno County Preterm Birth Collective Impact Initiative, a collaborative effort to reduce the number of babies born prematurely in Fresno County.

The Fresno initiative is part of the larger $100-million, 10-year Preterm Birth Initiative, led by the University of California, San Francisco, and funded by Lynne and Marc Benioff and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Central California Center for Health and Human Services at Fresno State serves as the backbone organization, helping to drive all major local efforts of the initiative.

In Fresno County, one of every nine babies is born prematurely, which is one of the highest rates in California. Preterm births can cause serious physical and mental disabilities or even death before the baby’s first birthday, causing emotional and financial distress for families, which affects the overall health of the community.

In her role, Flores will hire and lead a team in reducing Fresno County’s preterm birth rate. More than 1,500 babies are born prematurely in Fresno County each year, which surpasses some undeveloped countries.

Flores, who began her role July 11, was previously the senior program officer for nine years at the Central Valley Community Foundation.

“Sandra Flores brings a profound understanding of the neighborhood, economic and service system challenges faced by women and families in Fresno,” said Dr. John Capitman, executive director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute, which has been researching preterm birth for the past 10 years. “Through her prior work, she has emerged as a key local leader around sexual health interventions in Fresno and the region. Her impressive understanding of how diverse interests come together to improve outcomes for women and families offers the Preterm Birth Initiative increased opportunities for authentic community engagement.”

Flores said next steps for the initiative will be to develop and implement strategies and continue to connect organizations across Fresno County in order to support the collective impact efforts.

“As a highly complex issue with multiple contributing factors, there is not a single solution to the issue of preterm birth, making the collective impact approach necessary,” Flores said. “We’ll explore all these issues and convene work groups in Fresno focused on solutions that will improve health and education before pregnancy, care and support for women during pregnancy and coordination of health and social care services for women.”

Fresno County is one of six sites selected for the Preterm Birth Initiative, and the only site implementing the collective impact model. Alameda County and San Francisco are the other two U.S. locations, with international sites that include Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

A native of Fresno, Flores attended Fresno City College and received her bachelor’s degree in history from Oklahoma City University. She is a member of the Adolescent Sexual Health Work Group, an organization through the California Department of Public Health that promotes and protects the sexual and reproductive health of youth in California.

The Central California Center for Health and Human Services, under the umbrella of the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State, brings together University resources and community professionals, organizations and agencies to improve the health and welfare of communities in the Central Valley.

For more information on the Fresno County Preterm Birth Collective Impact Initiative, contact 559.228.2150.

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