Group aims to reduce infant deaths in county

A newly-formed coalition aims to reduce infant deaths in Montgomery County, where black babies are nearly three times more likely to die by their first birthdays than white babies, said Health Commissioner Jim Gross.

“It’s not new news,” he said. “It’s an issue, and it’s been an issue for a long time.”

In 2010 in Montgomery County, the infant mortality rate for black babies was 14.2 per 1,000 live births. For white babies, the rate was 5.4. Overall, Montgomery County’s infant mortality rate is 8 per 1,000 live births.

Nationally, in 2005, the infant mortality rate for black babies was 13.63, compared to 6.86 overall.

The new coalition, co-chaired by Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County and the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association, met for the first time Tuesday to begin studying the issue in hopes of finding effective interventions. Members include healthcare providers from around the community.

The coalition will meet monthly, Gross said, and the first step will be “very specific as to what our objectives are going to be as the work moves forward.”

Higher infant mortality rates are a longstanding issue in the black community, said Marilyn McFadgen, program administrator of Healthy Mommy - Healthy Baby. Under the program, which focuses on serving black families, community health workers and nurses visit pregnant women in their homes and accompany them on doctor visits to help educate the women on how to take better care of themselves.

“The doctor will say, you have this, that and the other, and you need to do this, that and the other,” McFadgen said. “And the moms will nod in agreement, but not really understand the instructions.”

Health workers help translate the doctors’ instructions, she said, and help the women find the resources they need to follow them. Sometimes, those resources include helping them find transportation to and from the doctor’s office, or to the pharmacy for prenatal vitamins and other medications.

But access to health care is just part of the issue facing some expectant mothers in the black community, McFadgen said.

“Many of our clients have so many other issues that the pregnancy becomes secondary. Many times they don’t have a safe place to live. They’re homeless. There’s food insufficiency, an abusive relationship, there’s drug use. There’s so many issues that we try to give them resources for,” she said.

Stress is a major issue, and reducing stress goes a long way toward reducing a woman’s risk of delivering early, McFadgen said. Preterm birth is the biggest risk factor for infant mortality. The community health workers can help clients find safe housing and sign up for benefits including food stamps, WIC and Medicaid.

“That does a lot, just being safe, just knowing there’s food or knowing where you’re going to sleep tonight,” she said.

Her program focuses on low-income women, McFadgen said, but even among higher-income families, infant mortality rates are higher in the black community.

In recent years, health experts have focused on improving women’s overall health as a means to reduce infant mortality, Gross said, in the theory that women who are healthier before they get pregnant will have healthier pregnancies.

“Birth outcomes are influenced by a woman’s health from the time of her own birth through her reproductive years,” he said. “There was a time when people thought that in order to bring healthy babies into the world, you just had to take care of yourself once you became pregnant, and then take care of the baby once it was born. Now the new approach is that we need to make sure the mom is healthy throughout her entire life.”

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