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Cuyahoga Co. Community Driven Organizations Receive State Funding to Reduce Infant Mortality Rate

Nick Brown is holding his son Will. He attended a Bootcamp for New Dads class before Will was born. (Darrielle Snipes/ideastream)

In an effort to reduce the high rate of infant mortality in Cuyahoga County, the Ohio Department of Medicaid last month awarded two-point-nine million dollars to three local projects.  One organization receiving funding is the Fatherhood Initiative. As part of the continuing Be Well series "Healthy Beginnings" … Darrielle Snipes looks at the role fathers can play in helping babies thrive through their first year.

Before his son was born, Nick Brown sat in a room with 13 other men – all of them about to become first-time fathers -- They talked about the things that worried them. “For me in particular, it was SIDS was a huge concern” said Brown.

Sitting in his living room a year later, caring for his son, Brown remembers the different classes he attended before find the boot camp.

“A lot of the classes I went to for breastfeeding, they are tailored to the mother, which is great and rightfully so, but at the same time, dads – new dads – are concerned with a lot of things that come with fatherhood,” said Brown.  “And it is difficult to find a safe place for them to express those concerns with someone that can understand their perspective.”

The Bootcamp for New Dads is a program designed to educate expectant fathers about prenatal and infant care – including infant mortality, safe sleep practices, shaken baby syndrome.

The infant mortality rate, is calculated as the number of deaths per one-thousand live births in the first year of life.  In 2014 Cuyahoga County’s rate was just above 8% -- slightly higher than the state and national average.  The rate for black babies in Cuyahoga County is 15.1% and for white babies it is 5.5%. That staggering static is happening across the state.

“It was almost as if infant mortality only impacted one parent,” said  Al Grimes is the director of Fatherhood Initiative.

The organization pays for men, who qualify,  to attend the boot camp.  It’s offered at nine hospitals and two correctional facilities.   Grimes says he plans to use the one-time grant of two-hundred thousand dollars from the state to expand the program so more men can attend. Grimes says currently, about a thousand expectant dads each year attend the class from areas where the infant mortality rate is highest.

“And we will investigate how to have the boot camps for dads in other communities’ locations,” Grimes said.   It is a mobile program so we can have it at a church. or at a community center or something of that nature.” 

Grimes says he wants to encourage both parents to be involved in the child’s life but also in the pregnancy.  That’s a perspective he shares with Dr. Andrea Trembeth, a neo-natal physician at University Hospital.

 “It’s about time.  We have not focused on the father for a long time. And now we realize that the father plays more of a role than just contribution of genetics,” said Dr. Trembeth.

Preterm birth – a premature infant born more than three weeks before its due date – is a leading cause of infant mortality.  She says dads can help care for a mom while she’s pregnant  -- increasing the chances the baby is delivered at full term by “helping mom to make it to all her prenatal visits.  That’s one giant factor that dads can play or future dads can play in improving the health of their child. Helping mom choose nutritious foods and access to those foods is also important.  And making the environment in which mom is living and ultimate there for baby making it a healthy one so helping her to avoid environments where there is tobacco exposure, alcohol or drugs.”

Ron and Samantha Pierce live in the Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland. They lost their twin sons Chritayn and Jayden more than seven years ago and Jayden. At around halfway through the pregnancy, the boys were born too early to survive. Baby Christyan passed first.

“He cried initially but it wasn't like a cry because he doesn't have lungs really. He let out a yelp,” Ron describes the first and final moments of his son’s life.  “It was the worse day, the worst hours of my existence.” He adds about losing his sons

Ron says doctors would later tell them there was nothing they could do. Ron strongly believes fathers need to be involved in the pregnancy from the beginning.

“Because I think there are a lot of dads that want to do better. But something you don’t have education,” said Ron. “The education in terms of taking care of baby or taking care of the mom and baby you don’t always know what is going on so these programs can only help.” 

Ohio currently has the fifth worst infant mortality rate in the country.  State and local officials are banking on community programs including the Fatherhood Initiative to help improve those numbers.