Pence promises attack on infant mortality

By Lesley Weidenbener
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Mike Pence on Friday called the state’s infant mortality rate – one of the worst in the nation – “deplorable” and said improving it is a key goal of his administration.

Gov. Mike Pence on Friday called the state’s infant mortality rate – one of the worst in the nation – “deplorable” and said improving it is a key goal of his administration. He spoke at the first Indiana Infant Mortality Summit at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, TheStatehouseFile.com

Gov. Mike Pence on Friday called the state’s infant mortality rate – one of the worst in the nation – “deplorable” and said improving it is a key goal of his administration. He spoke at the first Indiana Infant Mortality Summit at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, TheStatehouseFile.com

In 2011, the last year for which statistics are available, nearly eight out of every 1,000 children died before their first birthdays. That ranks the state 45th in the nation.

Pence said the “urgency and importance of this cannot be overstated.” That’s why he said the Indiana State Department of Health has made the issue its top priority.

“We need to think of this not as statistics we want to move on a scale,” Pence said. “This is not about reducing numbers. This is about reducing heartbreak in Indiana and we are going it together in this state.”

Pence was speaking to about 500 social workers and health care officials gathered at the first Indiana Infant Mortality Summit at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis. He told the crowd the state would need help from everyone – professionals and parents – to ensure babies are born healthier and live longer.

The discussion came amid some good news. The March of Dimes presented the state with an award for reducing its premature births by more than 8 percent since 2009. Based on preliminary 2012 data, Indiana has reduced its rate of preterm birth from 11.9 percent in 2009 to 10.9 percent in 2012 – an 8.4 percent cut.

“This progress shows that when infant health becomes a leadership priority, significant progress is possible and families and babies benefit,” said Dr. Paul Jarris, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, who has been working with the March of Dimes to reduce on the project.

But Indiana officials said they still have significant work ahead. Dr. William VanNess, the commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health, said the state needs more education for all Hoosiers and lifestyle changes for many pregnant women.

A majority of babies less than 1-year-old die due to complications related to birth defects, premature births or a mother’s weight or illness, VanNess said. And that’s particularly true in Indiana.

More Hoosier women smoke while pregnant – 16.6 percent in Indiana versus 9 percent nationally. They are more likely in Indiana to be obese. And they are also more likely to elect to have their babies delivered before the fetus is at least 39 weeks.

Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner William VanNess said his agency will be working to reduce premature births to battle infant mortality. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, TheStatehouseFile.com

Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner William VanNess said his agency will be working to reduce premature births to battle infant mortality. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, TheStatehouseFile.com

Indiana mothers are also less likely to breastfeed and more likely to sleep in the same bed with their infants.

All those problems lead to higher infant mortality rates, VanNess said.

“Indiana is consistently one of the worst in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s not that a lot of good people haven’t worked on this but we haven’t been able to stop the heartbreak.”

He outlined a plan the State Department of Health will be implementing in an effort to reduce the state’s infant mortality rate. It includes:

-       Working with Indiana Medicaid officials to try to reduce the number of pregnant women who are smoking and their obesity rates.

-       Educating more Hoosiers about so-called “safe sleep” practices that discourage parents from bringing their infants to their beds.

-       Work with hospitals to put a “hard stop” on elective, early deliveries.

-       Encourage more women to breastfeed their infants.

-       Analyze and share data with local and regional health organizations in an attempt to coordinate programs and education.

But VanNess warned the audience they will have to learn how to do more with less.

“Two thirds of our budget is federal dollars,” which have been reduced and are expected to fall farther, he said. “There are going to be changes.”

Lesley Weidenbener is the editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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4 Responses to Pence promises attack on infant mortality

  1. What’s the matter with these people? Can’t they just go to the emergency room?

  2. Ms. Weidenbener, don’t you think it would be a journalistic responsiblity to point out that both the Governor and his Commissioner of ISDH along with the Republican assembly have shut down expanded Medicaid and worked for years to inhibit and shutter Planned Parenthood, both of which are beneficial to increasing infant mortality, especially among the less fortunate, who would be the more likely in need of that “educating”?

    • I of course meant to write “DECREASING infant mortality”!

    • Almondleaf: In this case I have to defend Lesley Weidenbenner, who is one of the best political reporters in the state. I agree fully with the points you make, namely that Pence’s policies give the lie to his expressed concern about infant mortality — or maybe he just doesn’t understand the connection. But in this case, Lesley is just reporting the Governor’s vacuous remarks; there is nothing to really pin down as factually incorrect, just the usual bloviation. If there were misstatements of fact, then I believe a journalist should point that out to readers. The place to make counter-arguments is the editorial page or in news analyses.

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