New moms getting neighborhood help to combat infant mortality in Columbus
Columbus Dispatch: New moms getting neighborhood help to combat infant mortality in Columbus
By: Lori Kurtzman
April 4, 2016
Antoine Scales Jr. took his first breath two years ago and died within an hour. His mother was stunned. Buried in grief, she never learned why he didn’t survive.
“I shut down,” Delena Scales said. “I didn’t talk, really.”
But in time, the 40-year-old South Linden resident found a way to tap into her loss. She became part of a focus group for a local infant-mortality reduction initiative and agreed to be featured in public-service announcements about babies who die too young.
And now, she’s part of the first wave of health workers who will head out into their high-risk communities this year to fight to keep infants alive.
Last week, 16 women of wide-ranging ages and backgrounds gathered in a classroom at Ohio State University Hospital East to learn how to help their neighbors navigate a complicated health-care system and advocate for the treatment they need.
“What are we doing here?” co-instructor Virginia Nunes Gutierrez asked the class. “I say this a lot: We’re being the squeaky wheel.”
These communities need that squeaky wheel. Preliminary 2015 figures from Columbus Public Health show that Franklin County’s overall infant-mortality rate sits at 7.6 per 1,000 live births, higher than the state’s most recent rate of 6.8 in 2014. Black babies are dying at twice the rate of white babies.
The overall figure actually improved — from 8.4 in 2014 — but public health officials say it’s still too high. In January, county numbers showed that 15 babies died, 13 of them before they reached a month old.
The CelebrateOne Connector Corps training program — a partnership between Columbus Public Health and the United Health Foundation that’s funded by a $1.7 million grant from the latter — aims to certify 72 community health workers over the next three years.
Those workers will be placed in temporary, part-time jobs with local agencies to connect new mothers, pregnant women and women of childbearing age to health and community services.
The first class, which has 18 “connectors,” is more than one-third of the way through its 14-week training. But students already have begun working in their communities.
“They’re such a motivated group,” said Erika Clark Jones, director of community strategies for CelebrateOne. “Quite frankly, I’m really honored that we have such a passion around the work. They’r e committed to it on another level.”
Sarah Posten, 29, is working with Moms2B, a support program offered in four Columbus neighborhoods. The mother of an 18-month-old boy knows Moms2B well. She spent nearly two years in the program herself.
“They helped me tremendously,” said Posten, of Franklinton. “No one sends you home with instructions for a baby.”
Her insider status is a boon. Moms who know her from the program trust her with their concerns. In fact, the students were hand-selected for reasons just like this — they’re connected to their neighborhoods in ways outsiders could never manage.
“They already come to the table with a lot of knowledge, especially about the communities themselves,” said course co-instructor Milu Nguyen.
In class, they talk of obstacles unique to some of their neighborhoods — how non-native English speakers might not understand the word “drowsiness” on a medication label, for example, or how those struggling to make ends meet might not have enough minutes on their phone to call around to find the best price for a prescription.
On Wednesday, students and instructors also spoke of cultural reluctance to press doctors for answers or to trust what they’re being told.
“People, a lot of times, don’t ask questions, and they have a lot of them,” Nunes Gutierrez said. “We can be that bridge.”
Scales said it helps that she’s not a stranger in a white coat. She looks like her neighbors, talks like them, too. She will work with St. Stephen’s Community House and hopes to become “a walking resource and an advocate in the South Linden community.”
It’s not only new and expectant mothers she’s helping. Joining the local effort to combat infant mortality has given her the chance to reflect on what happened to Antoine, and to try to protect others from that same pain.
“Getting involved with this,” she said, “it was healing.”