CINCINNATI — Cierra Pope has been bouncing from couch to couch for the last two years, but knowing where she will sleep on a given night is only part of what’s causing her stress.
Pope is a single mom, homeless and 36 weeks pregnant. Her situation puts her on the front line of the infant mortality crisis in the Tri-State.
The infant mortality rate in Hamilton County has been one of the worst in the country for years. The Cincinnati area ranks in the bottom 10 percent in infant death in the United States.
Pope is working with TriHealth Outreach Ministries to get the help she needs to have a healthy baby.
“I've been there,” community worker Crystal Dennard said. “I have been a homeless, single parent before. I had to go to food pantries, had my lights and water cut off. I get it.”
Dennard is part of the team that provides encouragement, advocacy and vital resources the women need.
The community workers from TriHealth Outreach Ministries meet clients in home or at their offices. They set up health care and help in a variety of ways.
Dennard’s recent struggle is to find Pope a home.
“We’ve been close, but a couple of places backed out because of her record. We need her not to go into early labor.”
Pre-term labor is the biggest reason for infant mortality in Hamilton County according to Cradle Cincinnati, an organization that aims to reduce infant mortality in the county by providing information and resources.
“That’s part of the riddle we work on every day,” Dennard said. “We’re going to help her and continue to fight the good fight.”
TriHealth Outreach Ministries uses a team approach with nurses, community and social workers to help women in need. It continues to assist mothers all the way to the baby’s first birthday.
Pope admits a bad decision to forge a check that led to jail time continues to haunt her.
“There are so few programs to help people like me,” Pope said. She is not a drug or alcohol user, but a felony conviction has stopped her from getting housing assistance.
TriHealth Outreach Ministries is one of five groups working with Cradle Cincinnati to combat infant mortality.
Cradle Cincinnati Executive Director Ryan Adcock said the organizations combine to help nearly a thousand women each year. But he believes there might be triple that still in need of services.
“They are wonderful and have helped improve the numbers,” Adcock said. “But our work is far from done.”
Infant Mortality in the Tri-State
While the numbers are improving, 32 communities around Cincinnati rank above the national average in infant mortality.
The national average is 5.98 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. Hamilton County’s average is 9.5.
While many lower-income communities are on the list, the issue is widespread across the county. It’s also impacting places like Loveland, Colerain and Westwood, for example.
For African-Americans, the likelihood of suffering the devastating loss of an infant is nearly three times more than white or Hispanic families.
Why Is This happening?
The answer is not simple, but experts believe there are consistent factors that give insight into the infant mortality crisis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the leading causes of death are birth defects, low birth weight, maternal complications and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
In its efforts to lower the rate, Cradle Cincinnati cites three simple steps to ensure healthy pregnancies and protect children.
Spacing: Women who wait 12 months or more between pregnancies have significantly less risk of preterm birth.
Smoking: Expectant mothers who smoke increase the chances of preterm birth.
Sleep: Unsafe sleeping practices, once the child is born, can lead to death. Experts urge parents to make sure an infant sleeps alone, on their back, in a crib.
The other concern is nutrition, especially while women are pregnant.
“The clients that we typically work with live in food deserts,” Dennard said. “They do not have grocery stores to get fresh foods. They live in areas that have a lot of corner stores that sell have high-priced, non-nutritious food.”
Dennard added she works to make sure her clients have the food they need.
“There is a huge need for these women. Not only do they face barriers when it comes to transportation, we have women that are homeless while they are pregnant.”
Like Cierra Pope, who worries more and more about where she and her new baby will go after it is time to leave the hospital.