Infant Death Rates in Indiana one of the Worst in US

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana’s infant death rate has been among the nation’s worst for decades. Hospitals and health groups gathered Friday morning to discuss how to carry out the state’s latest plan to fix it.

The second annual Infant Mortality Summit brought together about 60 representatives of hospitals, community health groups and other health organizations. They’re working to forge partnerships to make sure women get proper medical care during and after their pregnancies.

Indiana loses about 600 babies a year before their first birthday. Nearly half of those are tied to unhealthy lifestyles during pregnancy, like smoking, abusive relationships, or a lack of access to nutritious food. And one-fifth of them are in just 13 zip codes — in a single zip code in Gary, one in 50 babies doesn’t survive the first year. That’s nearly triple the statewide average.

A new state law focuses on those 13 highest-risk zip codes: six in Indianapolis, two in South Bend, and one each in Gary, East Chicago, Hammond, Fort Wayne and Jeffersonville. Those communities are creating obstetric navigator programs, with hospitals forming partnerships with social workers and community health groups, so they can steer women directly and promptly to personalized care.

State health commissioner Kristina Box says the Fort Wayne program will be the first to get rolling, in January. Indy’s program will piggyback on existing efforts. A small drop in the most recent death rate statewide was almost entirely due to a 14-percent improvement in Indianapolis.

Indiana still has one infant death for every 137 births, the worst rate in the Midwest. Governor Holcomb has set a goal of improving to best in the Midwest in five years. Minnesota currently holds that distinction, with one death for every 208 births. The federal government has set its own national “Healthy People 2020” goal of lowering the mortality rate to six deaths for every thousand births, or one for every 167.