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Cradle Cincinnati focusing on reducing racial disparities, supporting Black birthing people

 woman uses medical device that may be an ultrasound on pregnant belly
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Cradle Cincinnati's new five-year plan aims to reduce Black infant mortality.

Cradle Cincinnati's newly released five-year strategic plan aims to reduce Black infant mortality in Hamilton County. The plan is a result of working with local health departments, hospital systems, and speaking directly with community members and partners.

"Thestrategic five-year planis really threefold," explains Meredith Shockley-Smith, Ph.D., executive director of Cradle Cincinnati. "It is [about] making certain that people have what they need."

RELATED: The infant mortality rate in Hamilton County increased slightly in 2022

The plan lists and defines three goals:

GOAL 1: Create a community-based ecosystem of support for Black birthing people.

A strong network of support has the potential to mitigate stress, a known risk factor of extreme preterm birth. Increased access to doula services, mental health therapy and postpartum support groups can also help alleviate maternal stress.

GOAL 2: Support Black birthing people across all stages of pregnancy and parenthood by meeting their basic needs.

Many families in Hamilton County struggle with basic needs, like stable housing, reliable transportation and access to affordable childcare – and face a complex set of barriers that prevent them from accessing available community resources. With support from Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Ohio Department of Medicaid, all prenatal care offices serving low-income families now have access to community health workers who help connect patients to resources they need.

GOAL 3: Expand the medical system’s capacity to center the needs of Black birthing people.

Black birthing people continue to report feeling unseen and unheard in medical spaces. Mama Certified, a certification program set to launch early next year, will provide Black families with a meaningful way to assess and compare the maternal-related efforts of local birthing hospitals as well as encourage and support hospitals’ increased efforts to ensure Black parents-to-be and their babies receive respect and care.

Shockley-Smith notes one thing missing from the strategic plan is a comparison between white and Black births. The intent is to reduce overall infant deaths by starting at the top, she says.

RELATED: 5 area hospitals sign onto 'Mama Certified' to help improve equity in pregnancy care

"We're using universal numbers... we want all babies — no matter what they look like — to be below 6.4 (deaths per 1,000 live births). That's our first number. When we reach that, we celebrate and then we adjust our thinking. There's not a comparison in race. We're looking at Black babies because their infant mortality rate is extremely high. So, we look at the highest and then we move down, and that's our approach for targeted intervention," she explains.

The group is also adjusting its lexicon to be more inclusive off all people who give birth.

"We wanted to be inclusive of all people and everyone doesn't identify as a mom or use the pronoun she, so we are using the language 'birthing people' so that we are clear that anyone who is birthing and Black and having poor outcomes is also the focus of our strategic plan."

Cradle Cincinnati released its annual report in May, noting a slight increase in the number of babies who died before their first birthday.

In 2022, 89 babies died before their first birthday — that's 21 more than in 2021.

At 10,076 births, the infant mortality rate for 2022 was 8.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. Cradle Cincinnati reported 66 deaths in 2021 for an infant mortality rate of 6.4 (66/10,266). That set a record low for a second year in a row. The rate in 2020 was 7.4.

You can read the 2022 report here.

RELATED: Local infant mortality rates are improving but sleep-related deaths are still a problem

Cradle Cincinnati says overall numbers for the past 10 years are still trending downward.

The agency formed in 2013 as a collaboration between Hamilton County, Cincinnati, and local health departments, medical systems and community groups with a goal or reducing Hamilton County's infant mortality rate.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.