2014-02-10 / Front Page

West Central Indiana Task Force Focused On Reducing Area’s Infant Mortality Rate

Thirty-Three Percent Of County’s Expectant Mothers Smoked In ‘11
by Michael Stanley
Staff Writer

An increased nationwide effort to curb the country’s infant mortality rate is picking up steam both locally and statewide.

The newly-formed West Central Indiana Infant Mortality Reduction Task Force, one of 29 teams throughout the nation participating in the third year of the National Leadership Academy for the Public’s Health, will focus the next calendar year on developing methods for decreasing the state’s infant morality rate of 7.7 per 1,000 births.

Within the Indiana State Department of Health’s (ISDA) Central Southwestern Hospital District, Owen County was joined by Clay, Greene, Putnam, Parke, Sullivan, Vermillion and Vigo counties in sharing an Infant Mortality Rate of 8.9 in 2011. Locally, Owen County had three infant deaths among 226 births recorded three years ago. Among those deaths, 10 were contributed to congenital malformation, 10 to perinatal risk, four to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and one unknown cause leading to death.

Dave Newgent, Owen County’s Tobacco Prevention & Cessation Coordinator, is actively working alongside Roberta Ford at the New Beginnings Pregnancy Resource Center in Spencer and Ruth Ralph and her staff at the Johnson-Nichols Health Clinic among others. Newgent and Ralph attended an Infant Mortality Summit hosted by ISDH State Health Commissioner Dr. William C. VanNess, II at the Putnam County Hospital in November of last year.

Newgent noted that the ISDH has outlined three top priorities: a reduction in infant mortality rates; a reduction in adult obesity; and a reduction in adult smoking rates.

“The state’s plan is to decrease smoking rates in pregnant mothers, women of childbearing age, to decrease obesity and to emphasize ‘sleep safe,’ because a good portion of infant deaths are caused by sleeping with the baby,” Newgent said. “Rolling over on a child in the middle of the night, adjusting a pillow in the wrong place, things like that seem like common sense, but it still happens.”

Owen County led the area with a staggering statistic in 2011 as well, with one in three expecting mothers admitting to smoking cigarettes during pregnancy. As a whole, 33 percent of Owen County residents light up. Comparatively, the state average was 16.6 percent in 2011 as Indiana has the sixth highest smoking rate in the nation.

“I’m trying now to create a coalition of interested people, the New Beginnings Pregnancy Resource Center, the Center for Women’s Ministries, the local Systems of Care group, Johnson-Nichols and both of the IU-Health clinics we have in the community,” Newgent said. “We have two resources coming to help with training and mentoring, training people interested in helping with this initiative to train women of childbearing age wherever they encounter them. Since we don’t have a central location for women’s services like an OB/GYN, we’ve got to reach out and find places wherever we can to get these messages out. Union Hospital of Terre Haute received a grant and has agreed to come to Owen County to do some training. I’m going to be finding churches, faith-based counseling centers and anyone who is interested in receiving that sort of training and providing that for them.”

The percentage of births in Owen County covered under Medicaid in 2011 was 50.9 percent, slightly higher than the 45.9 percent state mark and lower than the region’s 56.6 percent. The area’s highest percentage of births on Medicaid were in Vigo County (61.9 percent).

“Virtually anyone who interacts with women of childbearing age can help, it’s just so difficult to get the word out,” Newgent said.

Among Owen County’s 21,580 residents in 2011, 15.3 percent were living at or below the federal poverty level, slightly less than the 15.8 percent average statewide. In terms of area poverty, Owen County trailed Vigo (19.2 percent), Sullivan (18 percent) and Parke (17.8 percent).

Ford said the center’s ‘Earn While You Learn’ program provides mothers and those expecting with information regarding the dangers of smoking during pregnancy.

“The DVD we have that they watch is pretty graphic and really lets you know what that smoke does to the baby, even second-hand smoke,” she noted. “We also have a ‘Safe Sleep’ program that we have our clients go through. They earn ‘baby bucks’ and that’s what they use to purchase things from us.”

Free pregnancy testing is just one of several services provided for area mothers at the Johnson- Nichols Health Clinic in Spencer.

“Anybody can come in at any time and get a pregnancy test and one of the reasons we do that is so we can refer moms into prenatal care. If they are negative and don’t want to be pregnant, we have family planning services at the clinic,” Ralph explained. “For Any woman who comes in for our services, we do a preconception counseling, where we talk about healthy lifestyle. Owen County has a high smoking population, so we really focus on trying to reduce the amount pregnant moms would smoke or we try to reduce exposure to second-hand smoke, because they have found these lead to pre-maturity. The other thing is spacing, you want to have at least two years between children, if you let your body recover from one pregnancy, before you get pregnant again, you tend to do better.”

Ralph said the Putnam County clinic location has an added resource with a prenatal care coordinator, making home visits to expecting mothers to ensure adequate prenatal care.

“The other big issue is ‘safe sleep,’ making sure babies have a safe crib to be put in and that they lay their baby on their back to sleep,” Ralph noted. “Another issue is promoting breast feeding and in Owen County’s WIC (Women, Infants & Children) program, we do a have a good breast feeding participation rate. Breast feeding has been found to reduce infant mortality.”

The local percentage of teenage pregnancies has decreased in recent years, Ralph said.

“In Owen County we’ve been able to do that through our family planning clinic... it’s still too high, but the problem with the statistics we have is that they are two to three years old,” she noted. “It’s hard to know in a very timely manner what’s going on, but when we look historically at the teen pregnancy rate, it has decreased.”

The statewide initiative is being spearheaded by Rural Health Innovation Collaborative of Terre Haute, which includes Indiana State University’s (ISU) College of Nursing, Health & Human Services Dean Jack Turman. New to ISU and the Hoosier State, Turman’s background includes a three-year stint at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where he developed a community effort to improve African-American birth outcomes. Turman also founded University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine’s Center for Premature Infant Health and Development.

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