WESTFIELD, NJ – The Westfield Board of Health reorganized earlier this week, picking a new president, meeting new members and discussing an effort to raise awareness of maternal health.

The board picked as its president Dr. Lawrence Budnick, a professor of health at Rutgers University Medical School in Newark, who previously served as the Westfield board’s president.

Budnick, who has served on the board of health for about 25 years, took his seat at the head of the board table on Monday. Elizabeth Talmont, a nurse practitioner, was made the board’s vice president.

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New members to take office this week on the board of health are members Denise Rizzolo, a physician's assistant who also teaches in the school of nursing at Kean University, and Sharon Dorry, who is a school nurse serving the Westfield Public School District. Both have been appointed to serve three-year terms on the board.

Councilwoman JoAnn Neylan will serve as the council liaison to the Board of Health. Resident Steven Gorelick will serve as the board’s alternate No. 2.

Board members discussed asking the mayor and town council to issue a proclamation naming Jan. 23 “Maternal Health Awareness Day” in Westfield.

The effort is an initiative of the Tara Hanson Foundation, a nonprofit formed following the 2011 death of Freehold School District special education teacher Tara Hansen from complications due to childbirth.

“The foundation believes that expecting parents deserve equal education on the risks associated with the mother as well as the child,” the foundation’s website states. “Most importantly, we hope to keep Tara's positive spirit and appreciation for life alive.”

Talmot, who brought the initiative to the board’s attention, said declaring Jan. 23 “Maternal Health Awareness Day” is one among a series of efforts the foundation is taking to help raise awareness of the importance of maternal health.

“New Jersey ranks 35th on this issue in this country,” she said. “We’re sort of at the bottom, which is frightening.”

Gov. Phil Murphy in 2017 declared Jan. 23 Maternal Health Awareness Day throughout the state.

“The increasing rate of maternal mortality and the racial gap that exists in pregnancy-related deaths are nationwide public health concerns,” the state Health Department then announced.

“The United States ranks near the bottom of the world's wealthy nations in the number of women who die from pregnancy and childbirth complications, according to the World Health Organization.”

Health Officer Megan Avallone cited a ProPublica series on the topic of childbirth as eye-opening.

“As someone who just had a baby last year, it terrified me,” Avallone said. “I was pregnant when that ProPublica series published, and it was super high anxiety.”

She said the proposed proclamation would be a part of ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the issues new moms face.

In other news, the board chose as those news media outlets to be noticed under the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, The Westfield Leader, The Star-Ledger and TAPinto Westfield. The board approved the decision unanimously.

Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh