Butler County officials work to combat infant mortality rates in 'hot spot' areas

BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio -- Butler County has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. And the problem is even worse in the black community.

The county's mortality rates were 6.9 per 1,000 births among white infants and 11 for black infants from 2006 to 2010. The county ranks among the bottom 10 counties in the state, 9 On Your Side's Jay Warren reported.

Since 2008, there have been 127 overall infant deaths in the county.

The figures coming out of Butler County reflect a problem that's growing across the state.

While the national rate dropped by 11 percent from 2000 to 2010, in Ohio it increased 3 percent.

Ohio's infant mortality rate of 7.7 per 1,000 births from 2006-10 ranks 48th in the nation. The states’s preliminary 2011 rate is even higher: 7.9 percent, according to the Columbus Dispatch .

The number is even worse among black babies. Ohio ranks 49th in that category. (Only Indiana ranked lower on the list.)

The rate for black infants -- 15.5 deaths per 1,000 births -- is more than double the rate for white infants in Ohio, according to a Med City News article  published in July.

Miami Valley counties fare better than northeast Ohio and the state average for black infant deaths, according to the Med City News report, but the rates are still much higher than for white or all infant births.

When it comes to infant mortality in the county, the health department has identified several “hot spots” it wants to address. Citing a Miami University study, the Hamilton Journal-News lists those areas as two sections of Hamilton and portions of Fairfield, Middletown, Monroe and Lemon Township.

One of hot spots is an area near downtown Hamilton, which has been hit hard by economic struggles in recent years. Another hot spot is in a Fairfield neighborhood behind Fairfield West Elementary.

The top causes of infant deaths in Ohio include low birth weight, birth defects and sudden infant death syndrome. Ohio Health Department Director Ted Wymyslo told the Associated Press are in July that many of these deaths can be prevented by improving health even before conception. But this is an issue that must be addressed community-wide.

To help address the issue, the Butler County Partnership to Reduce Infant Mortality is holding monthly meetings. The most recent meeting was held Oct. 8 at the Butler County Educational Service Center.

The county is also receiving some state-wide help. It is one of nine urban areas being represented in the Ohio Equity Institute, a partnership between the Ohio Department of Health and CityMatCH, a national organization with expertise in maternal and child health.

Wymyslo said in July that the partnership allows Ohio's urban areas to tap have access to national experts and information about the issue. 

Several local partners are teaming up to combat the problem. They include the Butler County Health Department, Butler County Educational Service Center, Butler County WIC (Women, Infants and Children), High Hopes program and Primary Health Solutions.

"We've joined with the Ohio Department of Health and then all of us have joined with CityCatCH,” said Jenny Bailer, nursing director for the Butler County Health Department.

"What we really need to work on here… is the social determinants of health and those are things like housing, crime, nutrition, jobs, education -- the kinds of things that impact how healthy a person's life style can be."

One way officials with the health department believe they can improve the problem is by providing better house opportunities for young pregnant women,

Another system that is already in place in the county is the use of the drug Progesterone . The drug can help prevent premature births.

"If a woman is given progesterone over her pregnancy then she can, on average, hold on to the pregnancy about two weeks longer than if she were not given Progesterone,” Bailer said.

She says those two weeks can be crucial to the survival of an infant.

“That does not seem like much of a difference but for a premature baby two weeks can be the difference between lungs maturing and not maturing, and hence the difference between life and death for that baby."

During Infant Loss Remembrance Day Oct. 15, people across the world are encouraged to light a candle for one hour at 7 p.m. as part of “Wave of Light.” You can find out more information at the following link: www.october15th.com .

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The Associated Press contributed to this report
 

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