Ohio agency makes recommendation on infant mortality rates

State Sen. Shannon Jones co-chaired state’s review, says coordinated effort required to lower rates.

Last year the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 276, which established the commission to study the issue. After a series of fact-finding sessions and public hearings, the commission released its recommendations this week.

According to co-chairs of the commission, State Sen. Shannon Jones (R-Springboro) and State Rep. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard), the state’s infant mortality rate ranks 45th in the nation – a rate higher than many developing countries.

“Solving this problem will require coordinated, comprehensive system change before Ohio begins to notice substantial progress,” Jones said. “The commission focused much of its efforts on understanding system challenges, barriers to change and possible reforms.”

The rate is a key measure in determining the overall health and well-being of Ohio’s women, children and communities, officials said.

Jones said the commission’s report reflects four major themes: improvements in the collection and sharing of data; building on proven interventions; health system improvements; and addressing the social determinants of health.

The report spelled out that “recommendations focus on necessary changes required both inside and outside the health care system, and at the state and local levels to address and remove barriers.”

A closer look at socio-economic factors and race were looked at by the commission. African American babies in Ohio are more than twice as likely to die before their first birthdays than white babies, highlighting the need to focus on the racial disparities that exist in health outcomes.

“Infant mortality not only records the death of babies during the first year of life, it is also a strong and reliable indicator of the quality of life,” said Dr. Arthur James, general OBGYN and associate professor at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “This report of the Commission on Infant Mortality is a powerful summary of both why we should be concerned and what we can do to improve.”

Hamilton County Public Health Commissioner Tim Ingram said the report is crucial to helping local agencies battle the infant mortality problem.

“Local coalitions charged with reducing infant mortality depend on reliable state data to target and assign resources quickly to at-risk populations,” Ingram said. “It is crucial that we have accurate data to understand pre-term births and low birth weights, both of which are primary drivers of Ohio’s unacceptable infant mortality rate.”

The Ohio Department of Health and the Butler County Health Department have been actively tracking the issue for several years. Cathy Bala of ODH said the groups have been looking at many ways to address the issue.

“The reasons for disparities in birth outcomes are highly complex, ranging from socio-economic issues to healthcare issues and lack of good social supports,” she explained. “We do know that infant deaths likely involve one of the three leading causes of infant mortality in Ohio – babies born prematurely, sleep-related deaths and birth defects. The 2014 Ohio Infant Mortality Report … outlines Ohio’s initiatives to address infant mortality, including these leading causes.”

Jennifer Bailer is the nursing director at the Butler County Health Department and co-lead of the Partnership to Reduce Infant Mortality (PRIM). She feels that it is going to take a team effort to make a difference in decreasing high infant mortality rates.

“Decreasing infant mortality takes the whole community,” she said. “Many groups and individuals are already involved.”

To join in this community based effort, Bailer is inviting those interested to call PRIM at 513-887-5251.