Groundwork set in Franklin County infant-mortality fight

May 5, 2016

Columbus Dispatch: Groundwork set in Franklin County infant-mortality fight

By: Lori Kurtzman

May 4, 2016

The phone started ringing in January, and it hasn’t really stopped. More pregnant women are calling for help every day.

That’s exactly what Isi Ikharebha wants to hear.

“We want us to be the last call that they make,” said Ikharebha, the executive director of Physicians CareConnection, which oversees StepOne, a new service that connects pregnant women to prenatal care.

StepOne launched in January, part of Franklin County’s CelebrateOne, a multi-layered initiative aimed at reducing infant mortality in the community. Since then, the two care coordinators who answer the StepOne calls have arranged more than 300 appointments and other help for pregnant women who might not have seen a doctor otherwise.

That’s progress, CelebrateOne leaders say. But babies are still dying. There’s plenty of work that still needs to be done.

Today, CelebrateOne will issue an update on its accomplishments, work that has largely been foundational — “setting the table,” said Liane Egle, CelebrateOne’s executive director.

Those efforts have gotten pregnant women into doctors’ offices and babies into safe cribs. They’ve  launched community efforts to tackle a devastating community problem.

Whether they will put a true dent in local infant mortality remains to be seen.

In 2014, the Greater Columbus Infant Mortality Task Force issued a report detailing the bleak outlook for some babies in Franklin County. It noted that the county’s infant mortality rate was twice that of New York City’s, and that every year, 150 babies here were dying before they turned 1.

“That means that each week in our community, an average of three babies die before their first birthday,” then-Columbus City Council President Andrew J. Ginther wrote in the report.

The task force outlined eight recommendations to reduce infant mortality in Franklin County, and CelebrateOne was formed in late 2014 to carry out those recommendations. The goal was, and remains, to reduce the infant mortality rate by 40 percent and cut in half the death-rate disparity between white and black infants by 2020.

Ten organizations pulled together to tackle infant mortality from a range of directions — in the doctor’s office, in the neighborhood and in the home. Today, during a presentation at the Columbus Foundation, they’ll talk about some of what has happened, including the launch of StepOne.

Among the accomplishments:

• Creating neighborhood teams in the Near East, Near South and Linden communities, three of eight high-priority neighborhoods where infant mortality rates are the highest.

• Creating the CelebrateOne connector corps, funded by a $1.7 million grant, that trains residents to help connect women and families to resources.

• Enrolling more Franklin County women in Medicaid. There was a net increase of more than 10,000 women of childbearing age and 2,600 pregnant women enrolled through December, increases of 19 and nearly 40 percent, respectively. The percentage increases were nearly the same in the high-priority neighborhoods.

Plenty more is happening, Egle said. You can practically see the plates she has spinning, too many to count. There’s no one way to tackle infant mortality, she said, which is why CelebrateOne’s efforts include everything from contraception to care after a baby is born — and why they’re always doing more.

“It’s really essential that we don’t take our foot off the gas,” she said. “We need to get this right. Everything we do needs to move the needle.”

For more information, go to celebrateone.info.