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Baby On Board: Community Organizers Are Fighting Infant Mortality And Transportation Inequities

The Black infant mortality rate is decreasing in Cuyahoga County, but racial disparities still persist, according to preliminary data presented by health officials Tuesday.  [Monkey Business Images  / Shutterstock]
The black infant mortality rate is decreasing in Cuyahoga County, but racial disparities still persist, according to preliminary data presented by health officials Tuesday.

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority and the Cuyahoga County Board of Health have partnered to create a new program to fight infant mortality.

Baby on Board will provide expectant mothers and their partners in three East Side ZIP codes access to safe and efficient transportation to doctor’s appointments and other necessary locations.

The program will first provide households with free bus passes and vouchers. However, Angela Newman-White, a supervisor for the Maternal and Child Health Program at the board of health, said it also will work to address systemic inequity by improving bus stop amenities and providing free rides to new and expecting mothers.

“I’m excited though cause that’s that long-term sustainable community investment that I want to see happen, and we’re hoping that hopefully we can have real outcomes in two years that other cities or maybe even the state decides to do more of an investment,” Newman-White said.

The plan is to begin distributing bus passes April 1, she said, with improvements to bus stops coming this summer.

This program is a new way to address the high rates of infant mortality plaguing Cuyahoga County.

According to First Year Cleveland, an organization that studies infant mortality rates in the area, Cuyahoga County has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the United States.

“Of the 13,937 babies born in Cuyahoga County in 2019, 120 didn't make it to their first birthday,” the group says. “The numbers are especially concerning for Black babies."

According to data from the county’s board of health, 85 percent of pregnant women who said they faced barriers to receiving care said one of their top obstacles was transportation to and from doctor's appointments.

Once public health officials recognized a need for enhanced transportation efforts, they also examined census data, identified ZIP codes with the highest percentages of households without a vehicle and compared those ZIP codes to areas with high infant mortality rates. In all, three ZIP codes posed the most need: 44108, 44110 and 44112.

Representatives from Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority have said that they will be “targeting stops near medical and family facilities, such as daycares, libraries, and grocery stores. These upgraded amenities are not limited to shelters, additional seating, lighting, and sidewalk connections.”

The county board of health also will be responsible for continued data collection on the program’s progress and assessing the impact on each individual or family enrolled, to track whether or not Baby on Board is making a real difference in the community.

“With this newly established partnership between RTA, CCBH, and their local neighborhood health partners, RTA hopes that this is just the beginning of prioritizing equitable health and eliminate transit barriers for one of our most vulnerable population, children,” Greater Cleveland RTA representatives said.

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