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Governor pitches ideas to address state's infant mortality concern

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - Infant mortality has become a statewide concern in Indiana, with many families left to celebrate this holiday season after the loss of a baby.

Governor Eric Holcomb has announced two new initiatives to decrease the infant mortality rate. His team reports Indiana as 32nd in the nation for infant mortality.

Holcomb's first proposal is to create an obstetrics navigator program, or OB program. This would connect high risk women who receive Medicaid with a community-based health worker. 

Secondly, he wants Indiana to be the first state with in the country to require medical providers to use a verbal screening tool. This would be a standard, five-question assessment to evaluate women for substance abuse.

Erin Norton, a nurse and program coordinator for Parkview Women's and Children's Hospital, welcomes the ideas.

"We here in Allen County have been working on this problem for a while, but we will take all the help we can get," she said. "It's a complex issue and if the governor and the state's going to be on board to support us, we are thrilled." 

She said the whole Northeast Indiana community should invest in the issue.

"From 2013-2017, 214 Allen County babies have not lived to celebrate their first birthday and that means that this holiday season 214 Allen County families aren't going to be able to have their babies with them," she said. "That's something we can all get behind and we need to make it better."

Norton reported Indiana's 7.3 infant mortality rate is much higher than the nation's 5.9. Also, that from 2013-2017 214 infants died in Allen County and 3,029 statewide. She added that Indiana's infant mortality rate dropped from 8.4 deaths per 1,000 live births to 7.3 from 2016 to 2017.

This drop can be accredited to a multitude of education and service-based resources. Parkview currently has two women and children nurse navigators, ten community health workers and a maternal recovery specialist. They have plans to up those numbers. These workers help consult women and connect them to services such as transportation and daycare.

Parkview also provides education on topics such as safe sleeping practices, breast feeding, early prenatal care, and how to handle when a young baby has a crying fit.

Healthier Moms and Babies is also an organization in the region whose efforts are decreasing infant mortality rate. Through their prenatal home visitations, nurse-family partnerships and Baby Me Tobacco Free program they have helped 488 women in 2018, compared to 288 in 2017.

"It's just so important because some of these girls are so young," said director Paige Wilikins. "It's their first pregnancy. They might be 22-, 23-years-old and for their first pregnancy they experienced a loss and so many times when that happens, it really just drives all of us to try to get back to our mission and figure out how we can improve to make sure that doesn't happen again."

Wilkins likes the Governor's OB navigation program. She believes the verbal screening tool is a good first step.

"I do think there's going to be a little hesitation for women to go through the verbal screening tool, but I think if the providers approach it in the right way, in a way that they want to help those mothers get to the right support that they need to help them and their baby, I think our moms will be more open to acknowledging it," she said. 

Allen County's 46806 zip code on Fort Wayne's southeast side has had some of the worst rates in the state, reaching as high as 15 in recent years. 

Nurse Phyllis Bragg aids the specific area through the nursing sorority Chi Eta Phi. She said the Governor's ideas will give women in that zip code more access to prenatal and post-pregnancy needs.

"It will definitely be an asset to that 46806 zip code," she said. "It's going to help a lot. It's really going to be a huge impact for those moms that can't get to those appointments and don't have transportation to even get to those appointments as well."

You can read more on the Governor's infant mortality initiative on the state's website.


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