© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
To contact us with news tips, story ideas or other related information, e-mail newsstaff@ideastream.org.

Franklin County program aims to reduce the disparity in infant mortality rates

[Larry Crayton / Unsplash]

Infant mortality rates in Franklin County have come down in recent years, but babies born to Black women are still more likely to die than babies born to white women.

Babies born to women of color die at a rate more than double the rate babies born to white women die in Franklin County.

“So here in Franklin County, unfortunately, we continue to see an elevated rate of infant mortality as a whole, and then when you look at the disparity between African American, Black women, and specifically their Caucasian, white counterparts, it’s nearly 2.5 times the rate of infant mortality,” said Alexandria Jones, assistant health commissioner, public health nurse leader and director of prevention and wellness for the county.

Franklin County commissioners on Tuesday are expected to approve $300,000 in funding for a program designed to combat that disparity. The money comes from the Community Partnership grant fund.

The program in 2021 enrolled 29 women --- Nineteen Black women, eight Hispanic women and two Asian women, according to data provided by Jones. A total of 185 women were offered a place in the program.

The clients are found through referrals, many from the partnered Ohio Family Health Center in White Hall, Jones said.

The clients were all provided with education about safe sleeping habits, which is important because many infant deaths involve unsafe sleeping habits. Seventeen received portable cribs, Jones said.

Most of the women carried their pregnancies to full term, 11 of the 13 who delivered during the program so far. Births after full-term gestation are another important factor in preventing infant death.

“In Franklin County, infant mortality is primarily driven by premature births, low birth weight and unsafe sleep conditions,” according to Franklin County Public Health.

The program appears to have positive, intended effects.

And, a public-health nurse played an important role in one women’s delivery, Jones said.

The nurse “encouraged one of her clients to visit the emergency room after some concerning symptoms were noted at a home visit.”

The baby was in “fetal distress” and had to be delivered that night.

The nurse’s “knowledge and trusting relationship with the client undoubtedly played a role in preventing a potential infant death,” Jones said.

In addition to 40 home visits with the clients in 2021, the nurses also interacted with them via text, emails, calls and meetings at the clinic.

Flexibility is an important aspect of the success of the program, compared to previous home-visit programs, Jones said. The program was intentionally created to allow it, to find women where they are and to do away with income requirements and requirements the participant not have older kids.

“We are there to be a partner with the pregnant and postpartum individual throughout their journey,” Jones said.

Using public health nurses makes a big difference too, Jones said, because in addition to clinical knowledge, they also have social knowledge. That can help clients overcome barriers.

The program’s success could help the county reach its goals of reducing infant death.

The overall rate of deaths per 1,000 births decreased by 21% between 2011 and 2018, dropping from a rate of 9.6 to 7.6 per 1,000 births in Franklin County. The figure decreased to 6.9 per 1,000 births overall in 2019. The goal is no more than six deaths per 1,000 births.

But, the 2019 rate for Black babies is higher at 11.4 deaths per 1,000 births. The number was even higher, hovering around 15, before efforts in the last several years to make a change. Meanwhile, the 2019 rate of deaths for babies born to white women is lower at 4.3 deaths per 1,000 births, which comes in under the goal of six or fewer deaths per 1,000 births.

Copyright 2022 WOSU 89.7 NPR News. To see more, visit WOSU 89.7 NPR News.