The number of babies in Hamilton County dying before their first birthdays remained relatively the same in 2019 compared to data from the previous five years. However, the county is making progress in decreasing the Black infant mortality rate.
Cradle Cincinnati's annual report (pdf) shows 14 fewer Black infants died in 2019, which it says is a 24% decrease compared to the previous five years.
"We saw the lowest Black infant mortality rate that Hamilton County has ever seen," says Meredith Shockley-Smith, Ph.D., director of equity and community strategies for Cradle Cincinnati, noting the county's data extends to 1968.
Hamilton County's infant mortality rate remains above the national average, and the Black infant death rate is higher than both the white infant death rate and the national average for African American babies.
Two years ago, Cradle Cincinnati and its partners began focusing strategically on the African American community to reduce racial disparities in women's and infant health. In 2019, the organizations announced strategies "to focus squarely and unapologetically on Black women."
The four-pronged approach includes increased community health workers, expanded prenatal care, education and advocacy and training to identify and rectify implicit bias. Concentrated efforts in communities like Avondale, North College Hill and Price Hill are showing successes and are expanding. These partnerships include teams of healthcare and social services partners that work with families to improve outcomes, and are spreading to encompass 12 county communities. The Queens Village initiative gives Black mothers a place to connect with and empower each other.
"Where we see Black women leading is getting together to have honest conversations about how we're being treated and to think about what we need to do differently and what we need to ask for so that we can see change. Then, really looking at accountability. There's one thing to say 'Yes, I'm going to do these things that you said' and there's another whole piece of the work where we get to hold you accountable to that work."
Shockley-Smith says the leaders on those teams are making progress and the efforts are working.
"Cincinnati has responded very well. Black women have showed up to the work. We at Queens Village have spent more than $100,000 on Black-owned businesses, Black women-owned businesses. We've created leadership teams around the city - four or five leadership teams - to lead the work. We have been able to do some equity training within hospitals. The city is showing up for this work and also saying that it is not OK to watch Black babies die at that alarming rate and so I think that that commitment, as long as we keep pushing forward, it's possible to keep that change going. We are not there."
She says Hamilton County needs to "stay the course" and continuing working to reduce both the Black and overall infant mortality rates. She also encourages people who are interested in getting involved to join the movement, noting this is a powerful time for change and supporters of their work are needed.
Trends And Numbers
Cradle Cincinnati says the biggest gains in 2019 came in a decrease in extreme preterm births, with the number of Black babies born before the end of the second trimester falling by nearly half.
In total, 96 babies died before their first birthdays in 2019, leading to an infant mortality rate of 9.1 deaths per 1,000 live births. That number has fluctuated around roughly that statistical equivalent for the past few years.