Experts seek answers on infant mortality rates

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Local health experts admit rates for infant mortality are disturbing, but what has them even more frustrated is trying to come up with a reason why.

While both Mahoning County and Youngstown records suggest their infant mortality rates are among the worst in Ohio, when health officials tried to compile data from around the state, they discovered consistent information is very hard to come by.

That is why U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is pushing legislation to require health care providers and communities to follow national standards for collecting information on infant and child deaths.

“Some parts of our state collect and report data about conditions of the mother during the pregnancy, the health status of the mother coming into the pregnancy and the health status she experiences during the pregnancy, but other parts of the state don’t,” Mahoning County Health Commissioner Pat Sweeney said.

Brown admits his measure will not solve the infant mortality problem itself, but he hopes it will eventually provide information health care officials need to address the issue.

Although the numbers by themselves may not be that startling, when Ohio’s figures on infant mortality are compared to the other 49 states, Ohio ranks 50th among black infants.

Closer to home, the numbers are even more disturbing. Mahoning County is second worst in the state for overall infant deaths per 1,000 births, worst among white infants and 5th for non-Hispanic Blacks. The comparisons are just as bad for the city of Youngstown.

Experts stress education is as crucial as the data, but consistency is a problem there as well.

“We’re reaching out to our regional hospitals, but I would have to give the hospitals a B-minus. They don’t get an A or a B in modeling safe sleep practices prior to discharge,” Dr. Elena Rossi of Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley said.

While officials claim pregnant women who are given proper prenatal counseling have a better chance of delivering and raising healthy babies, local figures suggest most of the stillbirths and low-weight babies are born to mothers who never graduate high school.

“They’re worried about ‘Where am I going to eat? Where am I going to sleep? Where am I going to put my baby? How am I going to put my baby to sleep in a safe environment when I don’t even have a safe environment to sleep myself?’,” Deatrice Traylor of Humility of Mary Health Partners said.

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