South Siders help parents protect babies from infant mortality

September 28, 2015

Community Update: South Siders help parents protect babies from infant mortality

By Misti Crane

The Columbus Disptach

Sunday, September 27, 2015

It might be while she’s laughing at her grandkids as they chase each other in the park or on the stoop of Macedonia Baptist Church after Sunday service. It might be in line at the grocery.

Lillie Banner has learned to find the moments when she can put her knowledge, kindness and caring to work and maybe help save an infant’s life.

“I’m just a person who wants to help the community anyway I can,” Banner, 59, said last week during a volunteer shift at her Near East Side church. “I ask them, ‘How are you doing? Are you doing your prenatal visits?’

“I ask them, ‘Do you know about the ABCs of safe sleep? Do you have a crib?’  ”

The ABCs are the three tenets of reducing the risk of sleep-related deaths: Babies should be alone, on their backs, and in a crib free of choking hazards, including toys, loose clothing and blankets.

Banner is one of a handful of South Side residents who’ve been through 12 weeks of Ohio State University training for community health workers. The education is made possible because of collaboration between the school and people working on the South Side to lower one of the highest infant-death rates in the county.

The idea came out of a series of community meetings at Barack Community Recreation Center that tackled the weighty issues — poverty, race, housing, health care, safety, substance use, education — that contribute to the likelihood a baby will die before his or her first birthday.

Other developments include an upcoming program to subsidize or pay for long-acting birth control and another to create a “life plan” to help teens and women think in depth about their goals and dreams and put them into writing, said Tiffani Scales, a community planner working on Columbus Public Health’s South Side efforts.

Another new effort is the creation of a card that moms — and those who care about them — can pick up throughout the neighborhood that spells out why it’s best to wait two years between babies, Scales said. Also on the way is a local social-media campaign that includes young people from the neighborhood as well as the hashtag #drugfreebecause.

There is a better chance for success if programs are sought out and supported by the people in communities where a lot of babies die, Scales said.

Franklin County’s infant-mortality rate was 7.6 deaths per 1,000 births for this year as of the end of July; 83 babies had died here, and 14 of those deaths were linked to unsafe sleep.

The national goal, and a goal that Columbus’ CelebrateOne initiative is looking to achieve, is a rate of 6 per 1,000 births by 2020. Nationally, the rate stood at 6 as of 2013: 5.1 for whites and 11.2 for blacks.

In neighborhoods such as the near South Side, where work to lower the numbers is furthest along, numbers can run almost triple the national rate.

Erika Clark Jones, who recently led a series of community meetings in high-risk neighborhoods, said she is optimistic that the kind of work and grass-roots support on the South Side will be seen in other neighborhoods, including Linden and the Near East Side.

In the fight to stop infant deaths, education that comes from within those communities will be an important tool, she said. That’s where Banner, church leaders, librarians and others come in.

“If a kid gets shot, you hear about it. But if a baby dies, you never hear about that,” Banner said. “Knowledge is power.”

Denise Teage, 57, who also lives on the South Side and has been through the community health training, said the most important thing is that the message must be delivered with respect.

“I’m not trying to be preachy or judgmental or anything like that because I know that I don’t like to be treated that way,” Teage said, adding that she had no idea until recently that the community where she has lived for 20 years has one of the highest rates of infant death in the county.

Teage said to start, she just asks moms and dads and moms-to-be how they’re doing. If it seems as if they need food or health care or are struggling in some other way, she tells them about resources that are available.

“Whether they receive that help, that’s up to them,” she said. “I’m kind to them and hope they take my word in the way it’s intended.”

Sue Wolfe, of Church and Community Development for All People, organizes first-birthday events — part health fair, part celebration — four times a year on the South Side and said the attendance has grown from about 18 families in November to 65 families at the last gathering. She and other organizers are looking for more opportunities to keep the families, and especially the moms, connected between events.

“Instead of just focusing on this many babies die, we wanted to support the families to help the women have healthy birth outcomes and the babies to thrive,” Wolfe said.

Clark Jones said she is heartened by what she has seen on the South Side and what she has heard so far from those who are proud of their Linden and Near East Side neighborhoods, the other first-priority areas for CelebrateOne.

“It’s fantastic to see how many people are still with us, who get it,” she said.