Posted December 31, 2020 in Articles
Author: Kevin Kelley, President, Cleveland City Council
CLEVELAND -- Five years ago, a group of community leaders came together to proclaim that our level of infant mortality was unacceptable and that urgent action was needed.
The goal of First Year Cleveland was to use a “collective impact” strategy, drawing together dozens of area agencies, clinics, and health systems, to ensure babies live to their first birthdays and beyond.
Today, that goal still holds, and we are seeing positive results. For decades, Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and Ohio have had among the highest rates of babies dying before their first birthday.
It was shocking to me that Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and the state would have high rates of infant deaths when we are home to some of the best medical centers and medical schools in the country. The question was why?
On Dec. 30, 2015, after over a year of meetings in a back room in Cleveland City Hall that included disagreements, bruised egos but determination, I brought together representatives of medical systems, businesses, schools, insurers, foundations and more to sign memorandums of understanding, pledging to work together to lower the rate of infant mortality, and to work fast.
One of the early but important decisions was to pick an organization to run the back-office operations, including acting as fiscal agent. Case Western Reserve University was chosen.
CWRU has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of support in the form of office space, equipment, and the time of three staff members from the university’s medical school.
The second key decision was to hire an executive director, Bernadette Kerrigan, to lead the effort. She continues to work with a lean staff – and dedicated volunteer working boards – to ensure hospitals, clinics and community-based organizations continue with proven strategies and services that have real impact.
With First Year Cleveland in place, we are seeing positive numbers, though the region continues to have a high disparity – or gap – in the rate of infant deaths between white and Black communities. Black babies in the area are four times more likely to die during their first year than white babies, according to data from First Year Cleveland.
First Year Cleveland is working to alleviate all infant mortality, which includes that attributable to extreme prematurity -- babies born well before 37 weeks -- and to unsafe sleep practices. It is also focused on reducing the racial disparity in infant mortality rates, which First Year Cleveland attributes in part to structural racism and racial and maternal stress, sometimes referred to as toxic stress.
To address these, hospitals, health systems and the city and county are investing in wrap-around services to make sure no mom-to-be falls through the cracks. The services include home visiting programs after the baby is born, which have been shown to be very effective.
Slowly, the infant mortality rate is decreasing.
The preliminary, unaudited 2020 infant death data are bringing some light and hope, as Cuyahoga County is projecting to achieve a 7.7 or lower infant mortality rate (out of 1,000 births), which would be the lowest infant mortality rate the community has seen since the Cuyahoga County Board of Health started tracking the rate 30 years ago.
And the Black infant mortality rate is projected to be under 14.6, still high, but it is the lowest since First Year Cleveland started five years ago.
Much progress has been made, trends are in the right direction and health providers, community-based organizations and residents across the city and county and have stepped up to achieve this reduction. Now that we know the path, we must redouble our efforts over the next five years, so that we won’t be mourning the deaths of 87 babies, as we did this year.
Original Article: View Online