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New funding aims to improve maternal health in Lorain County, Cleveland

A woman undergoes an ultrasound of her abdomen in a doctor's office.
Federal funding could help more women navigate the health care system, learn safe sleep practices and find stable housing, even before they become pregnant.

Two organizations, one each in Cleveland and Elyria, received federal funding to improve maternal and infant care in Ohio.

The funding, announced Monday, comes from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services program that addresses community needs in areas with infant mortality rates above the national average. The program provides health care, food assistance, emergency supplies, transportation to care, housing navigation and other social services.

Of the $6 million awarded across Ohio, Lorain County received $890,667 and the Cleveland Department of Public Health received just over $1 million.

The programs will be available to Lorain County families eligible for Medicaid. In recent years, Lorain County women in mostly rural zip codes who were enrolled in Medicaid experienced an infant mortality rate of 9.4 deaths per 1,000 births. That rate is more than 30 percent higher than the rate in Ohio overall.

The funding could mean more women are helped to navigate the health care system, learn safe sleep practices and find stable housing — even before they're pregnant, according to Samantha Meluch, a population health strategist with Lorain County Public Health.

“A lot of our focus has been on people who are pregnant or postpartum, but we know that a healthy pregnancy starts before conception. We know that if we can have healthy outcomes before pregnancy, that's going to impact the ability to have a healthy pregnancy and have a healthy postpartum period for both mom and baby," Meluch said.

Another focus of the grant will be directing mothers to existing services, Meluch added.

“We'll be continuing to have community conversations where we'll bring together our partners to talk about what's going on with our moms and how we can best support them in delivery of services," she said.

In Cleveland, the Healthy Start grant has supported the city's MomsFirst program, an organization dedicated to helping Cleveland families delivery and raise babies, since 1998. It will continue to fund CDPH MomsFirst staff and community health workers at several agencies across Cleveland, according to a CDPH spokesperson.

Data from the Center for Community Solutions determined that 15.7% of Ohio births were deemed to have inadequate prenatal care during a five-year span, which is higher than the national rate of 14.5%. Lorain County recorded a 15.9% inadequate prenatal care rate, according to the Center for Community Solutions' Status of Women report, while Cuyahoga County's rate was 16.2%.

"Maternity deserts," where maternal care is lacking, have been widely cited as a reason rural areas experience higher mortality rates than urban ones.

The city of Columbus, Nationwide Children's Hospital and Dayton's Five Rivers Health Centers also received a share of the funding.

Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.
Stephanie Metzger-Lawrence is a digital producer for the engaged journalism team at Ideastream Public Media.