Plus, the final installment of our series on Iowa birthing centers
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Good morning and happy Monday!

We’ve officially entered my favorite two weeks of the year. I love the perpetual senses of hope, peace and gratitude this time of year. I also look forward to all of the year-end roundups of the best books, photos, music, podcasts, etc. But most of all, I love reflecting on the year that was and setting intentions for the year that’s to come. Do you have any recommendations or thoughts on best practices for reflections and creating resolutions? I’d love to hear them.

Now on to the newsletter. Here’s what you’ll find in this week’s edition:

Have a great week!

Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

P.S.: As a programming note, next week’s newsletter will arrive in your inboxes on Tuesday, not Monday, because of the company holiday.

A look at more Iowa companies offering caregiving benefits
Earlier this month, the Business Record published a story through our Fearless initiative about how more companies are offering caregiving benefits in an attempt to attract and retain employees.

These benefits include child care, elder care and mental health services.  

In the Nov. 29 edition of the Fearless newsletter, I asked companies who have added caregiving benefits or plan to add them to reach out my way.

Two people responded:  

Kate Banasiak, president and CEO of Diversified Management Services, said her company is in the midst of a pilot program that gives employees access to temporary babysitters through Iowa Elite Nannies, as well as a credit for reimbursement.

Iowa Elite Nannies has a "sitter club," which offers services on an as-needed basis – something that parents may need when day cares close unexpectedly, or when their kids are sick.  

"We’re a small [business] in the nonprofit world, so while we can’t currently subsidize child care, we did feel like a $300 credit plus the access to good, quality child care would be a really good start to helping," Banasiak said.  

Emily Toribio, corporate outreach and communications manager for Fareway Stores Inc., said that in October, Fareway announced an enhancement to its dependent care reimbursement.  

The grocery store chain offers its full-time employees a Dependent Care Reimbursement Account, also known as a dependent care flex spending account, with a yearly contribution limit of $5,000.

The funds in the account, which are set aside on a pretax basis, are available to spend on children under the age of 13 or on the care of dependent adults who are physically or mentally unable to care for themselves.

Historically, the account has only been funded by employees, Toribo said, but in 2022, Fareway will contribute up to $1,000 toward the account, matching $1 for every $4 contributed by the employee.  

Since the announcement of the enhancement, participation has more than doubled from 2021 to 2022, Toribo said.  

As of October of this year, women are still 2.9 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels, while men are still 2.1 million below.  

While businesses and organizations consider how they recruit and retain today’s workforce, leaders across the nation have made clear that the economy won’t fully recover unless women can fully participate.  

Dawn Oliver Wiand, president and CEO of the Iowa Women’s Foundation, said earlier this year that in order for women to be able to participate in the workforce, family-friendly policies, access to quality, affordable child care and work flexibility are essential.  

Has your business or organization expanded its benefits offerings to include caregiving? Let us know!

PART THREE: 20 years of decline: Iowa’s dwindling birthing units
Regional models for maternal health care can be successful, but Iowa doctors say an intentional effort is needed to reach the entire state
Red areas on the map represent the 53 Iowa counties that do not have a hospital with a birthing unit as of April 2021 due to a closure or because the county has never had a birthing unit. Graphic by Patrick Herteen.
Editor’s note: This is part three of a three-part series focusing on the closure of birthing units in Iowa, the factors driving the trend and how it is changing maternal health care in Iowa. Part one introduced the problem. Part two analyzed two closures – the Jefferson County Health Center’s birthing unit closure in Fairfield in 2000 and the UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown birthing unit closure in 2019. This part looks at potential solutions to the issue.

Fairfield, Marshalltown and dozens more cities are working through birthing unit closures and the effects of Iowa’s shifting health and economic landscapes.

And rather than having every community work independently on the same challenges, Dr. Stephen Hunter, co-director of the Statewide Perinatal Care Program, said an effort is needed that connects the whole state and recognizes how changes in one community after another quickly become systemic.

Hunter said traveling providers are an important resource in communities without a birthing unit. But if the trend of closures continues, it can contribute to having even fewer providers and would place the onus on the remaining workforce to deliver access to care to more of the non-urban regions of the state.

In order to adapt to the consolidation that’s already occurred in Iowa’s health care industry, he thinks a "hub-and-spoke" model will be the way forward for Iowa. It resembles the model that areas like Fairfield and Marshalltown are already using, but is filled out more to close any gaps.

Hubs would be located in city centers like Des Moines, Iowa City and Ames and be responsible for deliveries in their areas, Hunter suggests. The spokes would then provide the network of prenatal care to rural communities, preventing out-of-town trips once a month or more, depending on the high-risk nature of the pregnancy.

Implementing a system like this would mean transformation for every part of the state, but in a way, Iowa has its hubs already formed. It’s the spokes that need work.

Left: Author and activist bell hooks. Photo credit: Getty Images. Center: NYPD police Chief Keechant Sewell. Right: Girl Scouts of the U.S. incoming CEO Sofia Chang.
In the headlines
  • Trailblazing Black feminist author and activist bell hooks died at age 69 last week after battling extended illness. hooks, who spells her name with no capital letters as a way of de-emphasizing her individual identity, wrote more than 40 books, addressing intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality and geographic place.
  • Keechant Sewell will be the first woman to lead the New York Police Department, which is the largest police force in the country. The appointment comes amid a push to remake policing from within after last year’s protests against police brutality and racism.
  • Girl Scouts of the United States has announced Sofia Chang as its new CEO. Chang will be the first Asian American and Pacific Islander to hold the position in the organization’s 110-year history.
  • The hundreds of gymnasts who are survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of former national team doctor Larry Nassar have reached a $380 million settlement with USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.
  • A new report shows that Iowa parents received nearly $1 billion over the last six months as a result of the expanded child tax credit program under the American Rescue Plan. Without further congressional action, the expanded credit will expire at the end of the year. (Related Fearless story: Expanded child tax credit a ‘great step forward’ to reducing poverty in Iowa, leaders say)
A voice heard: Reyma McCoy McDeid

McCoy McDeid has become one of the foremost advocates for marginalized communities, particularly those on the autism spectrum like herself. She’s run for political office, worked on national administrations, led nonprofit organizations, and started her own business to help others learn and improve. All of those actions have been with the same goal — making sure communities recognize and value input from all people.
bell hooks
Worth checking out
The hidden labor of holiday magic (The Audacity). Essays on Equality (Global Institute for Women’s Leadership). Meet the student bringing Black illustrations to the medical field (NBC News). ‘The bawdy, fertile, redheaded matriarch has kicked it’: son’s hilarious obituary goes viral (The Guardian).
Worth checking out year in review edition
Watch the 2021 Google Year in Search (YouTube). The Year in Stories: Reflections from The 19th’s reporters (The 19th). The Year in Pictures 2021 (New York Times). Books We Love (NPR). Top Photos of 2021 (Time).
After move to new location, Dress for Success Des Moines gears up for capital campaign
The new Dress for Success Des Moines location at 7025 Hickman Road in Urbandale. Photo by Emily Kestel.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s disparate effect on women’s employment, Dress for Success Des Moines never stopped living out its mission to empower women to achieve economic independence by supplying them with clothing and confidence.

The nonprofit, which opened in June 2011, offers professional clothing, resume and interview assistance, and career development workshops to women entering into or returning to the workforce. Often the participants are coming from a shelter or incarceration and are referred to Dress for Success through referral partners like Children and Families of Iowa, House of Mercy or Beacon of Life.

As the pandemic roared on, White and the Dress for Success board came together and looked at how they could save money while still providing services.

Earlier this year they made the decision to move locations to improve accessibility.

While the organization secured a loan to get by in the interim, Dress for Success is soon launching a yearlong capital campaign with a goal of raising $285,000 to help pay off the loan and moving and renovation expenses.

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