Infant mortality project looks back at first year

August 4, 2015

Community Update: The Columbus Dispatch looks back at CelebrateOne’s first year.

By Misti Crane

The Columbus Dispatch

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Measuring success just a year into a community effort to prevent infant deaths is tricky.

The rates don’t plummet overnight, and there’s some lag in collecting the data. The most current numbers still show that Franklin County families lose about 150 babies a year.

Data available for the first four months of this year show that 50 babies died before they reached their first birthday, an infant-mortality rate of 8.3 per 1,000 live births — far above the goal of reducing it to 6.

>> See Alarming Losses, the 2014  Dispatch series on infant mortality

Those charged with leading the CelebrateOne project to lower infant-death rates here say they trust in new efforts and plans to help them reduce infant mortality by 40 percent (from 9.8 per 1,000 live births in 2011 to the national average of 6) and cut in half the disparity in death rates between black and white infants by 2020.

A year after the conclusion of a series of meetings by the Greater Columbus Infant Mortality Task Force, CelebrateOne director Liane Egle and other leaders discussed progress and plans at the Neighborhood House on Atcheson Street, on the Near East Side, on Monday.

“It’s going to be a while before we can definitively say the rate is going down,” Egle said after the event. “We kind of have to have faith in the things we’re putting in place.

“There is a lot of effort to try to keep up the momentum.”

Among the efforts highlighted:


  • The launch Monday of, a site designed to serve as a hub for information and resources. It offers, for example, advice on how to enroll in Medicaid and quit smoking and provides details about areas of the city hit hardest by infant deaths.
  • Increases in Medicaid enrollment. In three months — from late February to late May of this year — enrollment of pregnant women rose 16 percent in Franklin County. And enrollment of non-pregnant women of childbearing age increased by more than 5 percent.
  • Delivery of more than 450 portable cribs to families in need in the past year as part of work to promote safe sleep.
  • Babies should sleep on their backs, alone and free of smothering risks such as pillows, blankets, stuffed animals and bumper pads.
  • A series of neighborhood meetings underway in Linden, and in East Side and South Side neighborhoods close to the city’s core. In these areas, families lose babies at a much higher rate than those countywide, and many factors contribute, including struggles with housing, nutrition, health care and transportation.
  • A new policy at birthing hospitals that bans early deliveries that aren’t being done for medical reasons.

Donna James, who was co-chairwoman of the infant-mortality task force and now is on the executive committee overseeing work here, said that all the agencies charged with leading projects after the task force wrapped up remain hard at work and committed to success.

Part of the focus now is to find partners — “natural leaders” — in the neighborhoods where the most babies die, she said.

More financial support of these efforts and other projects tackling the problem is coming.

The Franklin County commissioners are scheduled to vote on a resolution today that would provide more than $700,000 to help launch CelebrateOne’s website, target specific neighborhoods and create a safe-sleep campaign and outreach program.

Commissioners also are to vote on whether to earmark $58,000 for the Moms2B program, which provides support and education to women in areas with high rates of infant death.

The county will use federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to pay for both awards.

Erika Clark Jones, who is leading efforts in a handful of communities with the highest rates of infant deaths, said she is optimistic that the ambitious goals are realistic.

She pointed to a chart showing five-year data on a South Side neighborhood that is a focus area. Twenty babies had died there, and 12 of those deaths were related to unsafe sleep.

“When you see a statistic like that, it doesn’t feel nearly as daunting. It seems doable. We just have to be sure we get it right with the resources.”

Dispatch Reporter Rick Rouan contributed to this story.