CINCINNATI -- A new $25 million five-year plan aims to reduce the number of Hamilton County babies who die before their first birthdays.
More than 450 county residents helped create the plan, according to the nonprofit organization Cradle Cincinnati.
This marks the second five-year strategic plan for Cradle Cincinnati. Since the release of the organization’s first five-year plan in 2013, the number of infant deaths in Hamilton County has dropped 15 percent. The county now has its lowest infant mortality rate ever.
But the community’s success is showing signs of leveling off. The county’s 2017 infant mortality rate was 9 deaths per 1,000 live births. That remains far higher than the national average of 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. Continuing the county’s progress requires some new approaches, said Ryan Adcock, Cradle Cincinnati’s executive director.
“The work is definitely getting more complex, and that’s intentional,” Adcock said. “We came out of the gate five years ago with relatively simple strategies in the hopes that we could make progress as a community in some areas that certainly weren’t easy but were simple to explain.”
The new Cradle Cincinnati plan continues to focus on the three leading causes of infant deaths in Hamilton County: preterm birth, birth defects and sleep-related deaths.
The organization will keep promoting its previous strategies of spacing pregnancies farther apart, reducing maternal smoking during pregnancy and educating caregivers about keeping babies safe while they sleep.
But the plan also aims to tackle more complicated factors that experts say play a role in the county’s high rate of infant death. Those will include addressing racial bias, reducing stress during pregnancy and working to ensure that a lower percentage of local pregnancies are unintended.
While reducing racial bias and unplanned pregnancies could be viewed as more controversial than giving free cribs to needy moms, such work is critically important to Cradle Cincinnati’s efforts, said Dr. Elizabeth Kelly, the maternal health lead for Cradle Cincinnati and director of the Center for Women’s Health at UC Health.
“We will not get rid of infant mortality until we get rid of the racial disparity. And not only that, it’s the right thing to do from a social justice point of view,” Kelly said.
The strategies around birth control and sex education are aimed at making sure women are ready for pregnancy and are committed to preparing themselves to carry a baby and care for a newborn, she said.
Most importantly, all the strategies in the new plan are based on what Cradle Cincinnati has heard from members of the community and parents who have had their babies die before they reached their first birthdays.
“We’re listening to the community of Hamilton County,” she said.
The new plan has three primary goals:
• To reduce the number of babies born before the end of the second trimester by 33 percent by 2023. That would bring Hamilton County in line with the national average.
The plan calls for spreading the successful “Start Strong” project to more neighborhoods, starting in Winton Hills and North College Hill.
Other strategies include addressing “implicit bias,” starting in prenatal care settings in recognition of the fact that black women, no matter their income level, are between two and four times more likely to have their babies die.
• To eliminate sleep-related infant deaths in Hamilton County by 2023. This will require making all caregivers aware that every baby should sleep alone, on their back and in an empty crib.
• To promote what medical professionals know about reducing birth defects and to advocate for research to better understand the anomalies that can result in infant death.
For his part, Adcock said he doesn’t think any part of the plan needs to be controversial because everyone wants to reduce infant mortality.
“What we want to challenge folks to do is within whatever your organization or your individual frameworks around all this stuff, where can you make a difference?” he said. “Literally everyone we’ve gone to and asked, ‘are you willing to help?’ has said yes.”
All five Hamilton County health care systems that care for babies will continue to take part in Cradle Cincinnati’s efforts.
Others helping to fund the nonprofit’s work include the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Interact for Health, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, bi3, Hamilton County, the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio Department of Medicaid and the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.
To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.