Montgomery County provides more funds to battle its ‘horrible’ infant mortality rate. Here’s what they will do.

Montgomery County commissioners this week approved safety net spending for the next two years, including modest bumps in funding to continue battling an opioid epidemic and for a renewed push to lower a “horrible” infant mortality rate.

Fueled by the county’s human services levies, commissioners allocated $269 million to be spent in 2019 and 2020 in a number of strategic areas that directly assist about 50,000 people a year in programs administered by the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) board, Children Services, Developmental Disability Services, Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County and Frail Elderly Services.

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To combat infant mortality — a problem striking black newborns more than twice the rate of whites – the county is working to set up a similar organization credited with drawing down the number of overdose deaths, said Montgomery County Commission President Debbie Lieberman.

“Our team and the health department are working together to use a collective impact model to address our horrible, horrible numbers on infant mortality, especially with African American mothers.” Lieberman said.

The county’s overall infant mortality rate decreased slightly from 7.5 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015 to 6.8 in 2016. But the rate for blacks is still 2.5 times that of whites despite dropping to 12.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016 from 19.5 in 2013, according to Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County health data.

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Terra Williams, the health department’s Office of Health Promotion director, said funding from the Human Services Levy provides for programs including the Everyone Reach One Infant Mortality Task Force, Moms & Babies First, Moms Quit for Two, Ohio Equity Institute, Women, Infants and Children and others.

“These programs aim to decrease the leading cause of infant death: premature birth, low birth weight and congenital anomalies,” Lieberman said.

An Infant Mortality Task Force was established last year with the goal of reducing the infant mortality rate in Montgomery County to 6.0 by the year 2020.

Ongoing funding of the county’s health department remains about $15.8 million annually through 2020 but will receive $4.36 million more in 2019 and 2020 in additional and reserve allocations.

It’s difficult to pinpoint an amount spent on the prevention of infant deaths because more than a half-dozen programs help prevent infant deaths, said Dan Suffoletto, Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County spokesman.

MORE: $3M to help address high infant mortality rate in Montgomery County

Overall, the Levy Council community review teams recommended spending about $6.2 million more in 2019 and 2020 than what commissioners adopted in 2017 and 2018.

Over the two-year span, the three highest allocations are set for ADAMHS ($50.3 million), Children Services ($54.3 million) and Developmental Disabilities Services ($64.6 million).

Not only have ADAMHS and Public Health strained under the opioid crisis, so too has Children Services, Lieberman said.

“We have more and more children in the system because of opioids. We are having more and more families with both parents involved and even grandparents,” she said. “We are just overwhelmed.”

MORE: Report: Ohio opioid epidemic strains child welfare agencies

The two human services levies, known as Levy A and Levy B, generated nearly $124 million in 2017, according to the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office. An owner of $100,000 home puts about $417 a year into the human services programs.

Suffoletto said the levies help bring in matching dollars from other funding sources that bridge the gap between tax collection and the amounts allocated.

“Because we have the Human Services Levy dollars, we are able to apply for grants that bring in additional dollars. That’s a key component of the levy,” he said.

Levy reserves have also been tapped to address some the most pressing problems.But even then, not enough can be done, said Tom Kelley, assistant county administrator-Human Services and director, Job & Family Services.

“The challenge of the levy process is always a balance between resources and needs in the community,” he said. “There’s a reality that we can never meet all the needs that exist in the community.”

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