Butler County receives funding to combat infant mortality

The initiatives, which range from smoking cessation to centering pregnancy programs, will deal with high risk African-American women who are pregnant, since black babies are dying at twice the rate of white babies before the age of 1 in the county, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health.

ODM has been working with community leaders in nine Ohio counties — Butler, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Lucas, Mahoning, Montgomery, Stark, and Summit — that have ZIP codes linked to the highest rates of infant mortality in the state in order to combat the problem. Butler County is ninth.

The money awarded to Butler County will help fight infant mortality by strengthening existing programs or creating new ones to address specific needs, said State Medicaid Director John McCarthy.

“This is a new approach to combating infant mortality in Ohio,” he said. “Rather than pursuing one-size-fits-all remedies that lack results, we are looking to initiatives that address the specific needs of individual communities.”

High Hopes is a program offered by the Butler County Health Department that is designed to help African-American women in the area deal with pregnancy issues. Natalie Jones works in the program and she is delighted to see the county get funding to help it grow.

“I am so excited pregnant mothers will no longer need to worry about unplanned trips to the doctors office during their pregnancy. They will now have access to on demand transportation thanks to Medicaid,” she said. “I had a client with preeclampsia she often experienced vomiting and headaches during her pregnancy. Too sick to stand at the bus stop, she would call her doctor but did not have transportation to his office.”

Jones said she got a call from her client who told her that she had blurred vision and was in labor. She instructed her to call 911 immediately. That night her client gave birth to a 4 pound, 4 ounce baby girl.

“She was only 36 weeks pregnant at the time. Her baby spent an additional two weeks in an incubator. My client was heartbroken and suffered from postpartum depression for weeks after giving birth,” Jones said. “If she could have gotten to the doctor’s office sooner, they may have been able to stop the contractions. Now, with this funding, we can help out so our young ladies will not have to worry about unplanned doctor’s visits.”

Jennifer Bailer, nursing director at the Butler County Health Department and Cindy Meale, WIC and breastfeeding support, are co-leads of the Butler County Partnership to Reduce Infant Mortality (PRIM). They said the money is a game-changer to fight infant mortality.

“Yes it is, we are thrilled beyond words,” Bailer said, after learning that six of the seven proposals made to ODM were approved.

Meale added, “With this we will be able to provide needed interventions which will in turn help babies reach their first birthdays…blow out that first birthday candle.”

PRIM has been leading a local effort to look at why black babies in Butler County and across the country are dying before the age of 1 at twice the rate of white babies. Rachel Stall of Atrium Medical Center, has been helping with the group’s centering program.

“Over the past three years PRIM and other community organizations have been making steady progress in the battle to reduce infancy mortality, especially amongst the most vulnerable,” she said. “The infusion of funds will enable Butler County to continue the current momentum and is a tremendous blessing.”

Midwife Toni King has been active in centering as well, but also a huge champion to find out and help African-American women who are losing their babies before the age of 1.

We know that social support and social isolation play a huge part in infant mortality in the black communities so the intention of these enhanced sites is to create a sense of community again,” she said. “We have a fatherhood initiative, funds to hire more community health workers with the hope that we can hire and train people from the affected communities.”

Two PRIM clients in Butler County that have benefited from services were glad to hear of the funded projects. Nicholine Bongkiyung and Tyesha Stevens are both mothers that have one child. Bongkiyung is particularly happy that High Hopes will be getting money.

“High Hopes was there for me during my pregnancy,” she said. “They followed up to ensure that I went to all of my doctor’s appointments and helped me with baby items like diapers, cloths, car seat and a baby’s bed. It is a good program.”

Stevens said the funding will help mothers like her with housing, and finding other resources that help struggling parents get by.

“The Medicaid money will help programs help mothers meet there children’s basic needs that parents aren’t able to provide themselves,” she said. “When I couldn’t afford food the program (High Hopes) gave me a list of food pantries I could go to.”

McCarthy announced during a visit to Butler County in February, that for this fiscal year, the organization put in its budget $13.4 million to help communities across the state deal with high infant mortality rates, and invest $26.8 million over two years to support community-driven proposals to combat infant mortality at the local level.

The 2014 Infant Mortality Data Report from the Ohio Department of Health showed slight improvement in Ohio’s infant mortality rate, down from 7.4 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013 to 6.8 in 2014. However, Ohio’s rate – especially the black infant mortality rate – remains too high and exceeds the national average according to ODM.

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