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Earlham Students Tackling Indiana's Maternal Health Crisis With Simulation Project

Courtesy of Earlham College
Earlham College students are working with the Little Timmy Project to improve infant and maternal mortality rates in Indiana.

Indiana's infant mortality rate is declining but remains higher than the national average. Students at Earlham College in Richmond are working on a simulation program aimed at helping health care providers and women improve those numbers.

Indiana's infant mortality rate of 6.5 per 1,000 births in 2019 was down from 6.8 the year prior. However, that's still higher from the national average of around 5.6. That puts the Hoosier State 37th in the country.

Earlham students are partnering with the Little Timmy Project, based in Indianapolis, to raise awareness about the challenges women face giving birth in Indiana. It's designed similar to poverty simulators that have been used to help people understand the extent of poverty and its affects.

"The idea behind this project is to do the same thing but with maternal health to kind of spread awareness of the inequities in the health care system in Indiana," explains Ruthie Reichman, a biology and theater major from California who wants to be an OB/GYN.

"It's trying to point out the issues in the system and how it disproportionately affects people who are minorities or (live) in underserved communities," she continues.

Reichman and the other participants are creating characters to run through the simulator. They meet with social workers and other advocates to create profiles of pregnant women and new mothers from low-income backgrounds living in underserved populations. Once the simulator is ready, it will be shared with non-profits and community organizations across the state to help train their staffs.

"We want health care providers to hear different people's stories because a lot of times they don't understand that there are problems, they just think everything is OK or that people have bad outcomes based on who they are. A lot of things are stereotype-based and we want them to understand that they can be harmful and add to the issue."

Indiana particularly has a problem with what are termed "maternal care deserts." According to Side Effects Public Media, there are 33 counties in Indiana that lack a hospital or hospital delivery wing. These counties are primarily home to the state's poorest residents and minorities.

"We are hoping to try to make an impact and show that the health care system needs to be reevaluated and some doctors can be retrained or taught how to handle things slightly differently," Reichman says.

The program started in fall 2020 is expected to finish this spring.

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.