Infant mortality in Ohio falls but rises for black babies
The state health department has released new figures for infant mortality, shining new light on one of the state's most vexing problems. The news is mixed.
Figures for 2014 show a decline in the overall infant mortality rate from 7.4 per 1,000 live births in 2013 to 6.8 in 2014. Baby deaths went below 1,000 statewide for the first time since record keeping began.
But African American infant mortality actually got worse from 2013 to 2014, going from 13.8 to 14.3. Infant mortality for whites declined from 6.0 to 5.3, while for Hispanics it fell from 8.8 to 6.2.
The latest news about African American infant mortality in Ohio is "unnerving," said Pete Schade, Erie County's health commissioner.
He said the Erie County Health Department's efforts to combat local minority infant mortality are well under way and include planning for a big summit on the subject in April.
Meanwhile, state officials admit more needs to be done.
“While we are encouraged by the trends, there is much work to do – especially when it comes to African-American infants who die at more than twice the rate of white infants. We are optimistic that our recent initiatives will help us accelerate our progress,” said ODH director Rick Hodges.
“Given the importance of this issue, we sped up the process of collecting and analyzing data to provide the annual infant mortality report several months earlier than in past years in order to help our many partners who are on the front lines in the fight to save babies’ lives," he said.
Ohio infant deaths fell nearly 6.7 percent from 1,024 in 2013 to 955 in 2014. That's the first time since deaths were registered in Ohio beginning in 1939 the state went below 1,000 infant deaths in a year. The three leading causes of infant deaths in Ohio are prematurity/ pre-term births, sleep-related deaths and birth defects.
The health department released infant mortality data for all of Ohio's counties, but only calculated death rates for counties with a large population, noting that the statistics aren't meaningful for counties with a small sample size.
But the news for Erie County didn't look good. The statistics showed 12 infant deaths in Erie County in 2014, 6 in Huron County, 1 in Ottawa County and 3 in Sandusky County.
Schade said his health department, hoping to learn more about the causes of black infant mortality, has sent out 7,000 questionnaires to black women ages 18 to 42 in six counties in northwest Ohio.
"I think it's going to give a lot of answers on what may be contributing to infant mortality in the minority community," he said. "I want the data back and combed over by Valentine's Day."
Schade is organizing an April 11 summit meeting at Kalahari to deal with minority infant mortality. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who has tried to focus attention on the issue, has agreed to serve as the keynote speaker.
Interest in that April meeting seems to be high, judging by the turnout for a Dec. 9 planning meeting. Schade said 80 people showed up, filling up the room.