Five Rivers fighting infant death with new pilot program

Shavelta Harding of Dayton is expecting her third child and is sharing her experiences from her successful pregnancies with a group of women participating in a a recently launched pilot program at Five Rivers Health Center designed to reduce the risk of premature births and infant deaths.

“I was really looking forward to sharing my experiences in the first class, and I’ve loved it ever since,” said Harding, referring to the CenteringPregnancy program, which started in January and encourages healthy behaviors among expecting mothers through a group-sharing process. “It’s unlike any other doctor’s visit I’ve ever had. You don’t just come in and get a Doppler and check out your baby’s heart rate. You talk about anything that’s going on. It’s like a family.”

Five Rivers is one of four federally qualified health centers across the state sharing a $900,000 grant to support CenteringPregnancy and other programs designed to combat the state’s alarmingly high infant mortality rates. The local health center is one of the largest providers of health care services for the uninsured and undeserved.

Statewide, Ohio ranks 47th in the nation in its overall infant mortality rate and 50th among African Americans, according to State Sen. Shannon Jones, R–Springboro, who, along with State Sen. Charleta Tavares, D–Columbus, earlier this year introduced a legislative package to fight the state’s high rate of infant deaths.

The package included Senate Bill 279, which establish a two-year pilot program using the Centering Pregnancy model at health centers in Ohio to improve birth outcomes.

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“What’s starting here is small, but we’re really hopeful to get more and more women in this type of setting,” Jones said Thursday during a press conference at Five Rivers. “As gratified as I am to see the work of many people come to fruition here in this pilot process; when you’re at 47th and 50th in the nation, we have to put the pedal to the metal.”

Premature births and infant deaths are an even bigger problem in Montgomery County.

Montgomery County’s overall infant mortality rate was 8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012, which was about twice the rate for the nation as a whole, according to the latest data available from the Ohio Department of Health.

The CenteringPregnancy program, which serves about eight to 12 women at time, helps address the problem by relieving maternal stress and establishing optimal standards of prenatal care, health officials said.

Five Rivers welcomed its first group of women in January, and new groups are added about every month.

Public health hopes the CenteringPregnancy program will be expanded to other health care providers in the county. Lifestages Samaritan Centers for Women, which has several locations in the region, has offered the program for years.

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