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Infant Mortality Summit To Address Racial Inequality In Obstetric Care

Becca Russo
Cradle Cincinnati
Mom Danielle cradles her baby Kori. Dr. Jim Greenbery says the way African-American women experience healthcare often leads to mistrust with the system and poor outcomes.

Ohio's infant mortality rate remains higher than the national average. The rate of African-American babies dying before their first birthdays is three times that of white babies.The Ohio Collaborative to Prevent Infant Mortality is holding its 2018 summit in Cincinnati Wednesday. Healthcare and social service providers will talk about what's working and what isn't when it comes to preventing infant deaths.

"On a national level and certainly in Ohio as well, African-American babies are dying three times as often as white babies," says Jim Greenberg, M.D., summit co-chair and co-director of Cincinnati Children's Perinatal Institute. "It's a very stubborn problem, it's actually gotten worse recently rather than better even though our overall infant mortality rates have dropped a little bit."

Besides issues due to lack of access, there are also problems with how African-American women experience healthcare and how they are treated in the healthcare system -- especially poor women, which leads to mistrust, alienation and poor or no care.

"Those settings tend to be settings that aren't very attractive, pleasant or positive for those women," Greenberg explains. "For example, if a woman has a prenatal care appointment and misses that appointment, one of the approaches to address that problem is to tell that patient that she can't come to that clinic anymore."

African-American women are also more likely to die while giving birth. The rate of deaths is about 20 per 100,000 births in Ohio in 2018, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you separate white and black women giving birth, the numbers are dramatic: Nearly 16 white women die per 100,000 births, while the number of black women is 46 per 100,000.

Success In Avondale

A focused effort to combat African-American infant mortality in Avondale was successful and has been expanded to other Cincinnati-area communities.

As WVXU reported in April,the rate of extreme preterm births in the predominantly African-American neighborhood dropped to zero during the three-year program from 2015 to 2017.

Cradle Cincinnati Executive Director Ryan Adcock told WVXU:

"They made sure every mom got a community health worker and every mom got a nurse case manager to help solve not just her medical needs but her social needs," Adcock explains. "If mom needed housing, if mom needed help furthering her education, if mom needed help getting a job, those community health workers and nurse case managers are really there to help support that kind of change in mom's life. We found that to be incredibly valuable."
They also started having monthly community dinners led by Avondale moms and attended by community members and healthcare providers. Adcock says everyone came as "regular people," learning about each other and breaking down trust barriers that have traditionally been been problematic.

About The Summit

The summit is free and open to the public. It is being held at the Duke Energy Convention Center Wednesday, Dec. 12 from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

An opening night event will be held Tuesday, Dec. 11 from 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Olympian and activist Tommie Smith will talk about the intersection of civil rights and infant mortality.

Speakers include:

  • Tommie Smith, Olympic athlete and civil rights activist
  • Dr. Camara Jones, past president of the American Public Health Association
  • Dr. Michael Lu, former Director of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Lance Himes, Director of the Ohio Department of Health
  • Barbara Sears, Director of the Ohio Department of Medicaid
  • LeeAnne Cornyn, Director of Children’s Initiatives for Governor-Elect Mike DeWine

A full agenda is available here (PDF).

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.