Richland County’s infant mortality rates show improvement; health officials say there’s still more to be done

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 11:02 AM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - When a rural county saw their infant mortality rates rise, they knew they were in trouble.

Their urgent efforts to change the issue are paying off.

However, there are still underlying issues that need to be fixed.

19 News investigates found that a lack of education and transportation were the leading causes of the issue.

We continue our series “Bridging the Great Health Divide.”

At the Mansfield Cemetery, people will come across hundreds of graves. Some of those graves have toy cars and trinkets on them. Those are the graves of babies whose lives were cut way too short.

“We do lose babies, unfortunately as a cemetery,” said Pam Bautz, the administrator of the Mansfield Cemetery Association.

Shanay Hughes’ 2-month-old baby girl, Jesselyn Crawford, is among the babies buried at the Mansfield Cemetery. Crawford died from sudden infant death syndrome in 2005.

”I think for a long time, I felt like every other parent. They want to find a reason for why things happen, whether it be good or bad, you just want to know that it just didn’t happen for no reason at all,” said Hughes.

Sixteen years have come and gone since Hughes lost her baby. She’s taken her sadness, and pain, and turned it into something positive. She now educates and helps other soon-to-be moms. Hughes works for Moms and Babies First as a community health worker in Mansfield.

“Our program is based on infant mortality rates. Our job is to make sure that African-American moms in our community are getting to their doctors appointments, that they have transportation, that their basic needs are getting met so that they can focus on having healthy babies, and healthy pregnancies,” said Hughes.

Back in 2017, Richland County Child Fatality Review Board saw alarming infant mortality rate statistics, specifically, sleep-related deaths. At that point, they knew something needed to change. So, they took action.

“Here at Richland Public Health, our public nurses do complete home visits to moms that have just had babies and at the home visit, they will deliver this cribette to a new mom for her baby. It comes with a packet of really valuable information. Talks about how babies frequently cry a lot. And how to soothe a baby,” said Tina Picman, the WIC director at Richland Public Health and the child fatality review coordinator for Richland County.

Over the last two years health officials, said because of their efforts, they haven’t had a sleep-related infant death.

”I feel across the board, the numbers are not as bad as they used to be. I myself personally have not lost a baby on my caseload so thank God for that,” said Hughes.

Education has worked well to improve infant mortality rates. Hughes said many of her clients still struggle with transportation. For example, getting to those crucial doctor appointments can be a challenge.

As for a solution to the problem? Hughes said the county is striving to work with local agencies to seek out grants that would assist in making sure clients have transportation to get their basic needs.

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