Butler County group calls for racism to be named local emergency

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Combined ShapeCaption
Kentucky tattoo artist offering free cover-ups for racist imagery

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A Butler County coalition’s mission is to change policies and practices within the communities that negatively affect Black, indigenous and people of color mothers and infants.

Leading Infant Vitality Equitably (LIVE) says racism is the public health crisis and is calling on Butler County leaders, organizations, and residents to “boldly and authentically” name racism as a national and local emergency that must be “dismantled and eradicated,” according to the Butler County General Health District.

Wendy Waters-Connell, director of the Hamilton YWCA, said YWCAs across Ohio have been working on this initiative to have racism declared a public health crisis for more than a year.

“We must acknowledge the disparity of life expectancy for our brothers, sisters, and black and brown babies,” Waters-Connell wrote in an e-mail. “YWCA Hamilton shall get up and do the work, until injustice is rooted out, until institutions are transformed, until the world sees women, girls, and people of color the way we do.”

RELATED: Ohio NAACP calls for senator who asked about ‘colored’ hand washing to resign

Jackie Phillips, Middletown’s health commissioner, said institutional racism “is a foundation of everything” and touches “every fabric in our society.”

Those hardships and disadvantages include, but are not limited to, reduced health care, fewer educational opportunities and higher disease rates, Phillips said.

“All of that bleeds into the future unless it’s corrected,” she said.

Waters-Connell said that in Butler County, Black infants die at two times the rate of White infants.

She said the health disparities caused by years of social and behavioral injustices toward Black residents are affecting their overall health and wellness. The “root cause” of these health disparities is racism, she said.

LIVE was born out of the need to improve the health of women and infants with an emphasis on Black women who experience health disparities and inequities, she said.

From 2014-19 the infant mortality rate (IMR) for Black infants in Butler County was 14.0, while the IMR for White infants was 5.9. IMR measures how many babies under the age of 1 die per 1000 live births.

Black infants (13.3 percent) are more likely to be born too small and too early than their White counterparts (9.5 percent), according to the health district.

RELATED: Juneteenth holiday noting end of slavery takes on new energy in Butler County

Earlier this year, new data showed that fewer Ohio infants died in 2018, though a wide gap still remained between the rate of Black and White babies who celebrate their first birthday.

Ohio’s infant mortality rate was 6.9 for 2018, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The rate has declined from 7.2 deaths per 1,000 births in 2017 and, before that, a rate of 7.4 for 2016. The rate among Black infants fell to 13.9 in 2018 from 15.6 in 2017.

“While there are indications of promising progress, there is much more that we must do to help more Ohio babies reach their first birthdays, particularly African-American infants given that the Black infant mortality rate hasn’t changed significantly since 2009,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said.

The leading causes of infant deaths in Ohio in 2018 were prematurity-related conditions, birth defects, external injuries, SIDS and obstetric conditions.

Black women are at a higher risk of experiencing high stress levels that can lead to preterm birth and a low birth weight delivery.

Butler County General Health District’s 2019 Infant Vitality Annual Report said the infant mortality rate for the county decreased from 8.4 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018 to a rate of 6.7 in 2019.

Black infants in Butler County were also at a higher risk of being born preterm than White infants.

In 2019, the overall preterm birth rate for Butler County was 10.5 percent, though that broke down to 13.3 percent of Black infants compared to 9.5 percent non-Hispanic White infants and 9.2 percent Hispanic infants.

Butler County Health District has a range of programs designed to help babies live to celebrate their first birthday, such as the Neighborhood Navigator program to connect pregnant moms to resources and Cribs for Kids to promote safe sleep and provide free Cribettes. Other groups are also a part of the effort, such as Primary Health Solutions, which has a Centering Pregnancy program, which is an evidence-based prenatal care and support group.

Last week, Montgomery County and the city of Dayton declared racism as a public health crisis.

LIVE partners include:

• Butler County General Health District

• City of Middletown Health Department

• YWCA of Hamilton

• Primary Health Solutions

• Women Helping Women

• Butler Metropolitan Housing Authority

• Sojourner Perinatal Program

About the Author