State promotes programs to reduce infant and mother mortality

By Dionte Coleman
TheStatehousefile.com

INDIANAPOLIS—For too many Indiana parents, the delight of a child’s birth is followed by the overwhelming grief of that child’s death.

Wednesday, health professionals jammed a conference room in the JW Marriott in Indianapolis as part of an effort to ensure more babies live past their first birthday and thrive.

Labor of Love is an initiative by the Indiana State Department of Health in cooperation with other organizations to fight infant mortality and help keep babies and mothers healthy.

It’s a mission of particular urgency in Indiana, which has the sixth highest infant mortality in the nation. And, Labor of Love states on its website, the United States consistently ranks near the bottom in infant mortality among a list of 34 wealthy countries published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Labor of Love is an initiative backed by the Indiana Department of Health. Photo By Dionte Coleman, TheStatehouseFile.com

This year’s Labor of Love summit focused on risk factors for infants — particularly the mother’s health.

“Take healthcare outside of the four walls that we think of in the clinics or hospitals, and into the places where people live, learn, work and play,” said Jennifer Tackitt-Dorfmeyer, executive director of Choices Coordinated Care Solutions, a state department of health program that provides care coordination services to new parents and pregnant women in five southeastern Indiana counties.

Health care “happens where people are, not where medicine lives,” she said.

She said new tools include assigning women having an “OB Navigator,” who walks women through their pregnancies one-on-one. This helps connect women with needed services, which will bring down the infant mortality rate. The goal is to make the pregnancy smoother while centering the healthcare experience more around the mother.

Tackitt-Dorfmeyer said that “developing new programs is not always the right answer. In fact, it’s generally never the right answer. The right answer is taking a broad look at the services we have available and connecting them to each other, so we can maximize all of our resources and our efficiency and our effectiveness, to build on the goals that we have.”

One factor contributing to Indiana’s high infant mortality rate is the drug and opioid epidemic, said State Health Commissioner Kris Box.

“We know that pregnancy is a very important opportunity, a time where we can identify women with substance abuse disorder and get them into recovery. We know they are more motivated when they’re pregnant to reach for help or to accept help if we give it at that time or when they have a new baby at home. And this is why Governor (Eric) Holcomb accepts the recommendation that every pregnant woman should have early universal screening for substance abuse disorder with a validated tool,” Box said.

Dr. Elliott Main, chairman of two California groups that examine infant mortality and maternal healthcare, said that in order to keep more babies alive, medical professionals need to go to the root of it all: Keeping mothers healthy.

“I think we’ve taken our eye off the prize a little bit over the last several decades,” he said. “The infant mortality rate has risen and the rise in maternal internal complications can certainly negatively impact our baby outcomes as well.”

Dionte Coleman is a reporter with TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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