St. Elizabeth’s program works to reduce infant deaths in Mahoning Co.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Across the state, infant mortality numbers aren’t getting any better and in Mahoning County, over two dozen babies died last year before their first birthday.

Even after two years of effort, babies in Mahoning County are still at a higher risk than babies almost anywhere else in Ohio.

Infant mortality rates from 2015 (PDF)
Infant mortality rates from 2014 (PDF)

A special Infant Mortality Task Force is working to change that, but Mahoning County Board of Health Commissioner Patricia Sweeney says it could take at least ten years of constant work to reduce the risk to babies in the county.

“We have had year after year of high infant mortality rates, particularly among African American babies, so it’s not something that, with focused attention over the past 24 months, that you’re going to see an immediate turnaround.”

She says some of the problems stem from things like quality of education, employment opportunities and stress.

“Some of these issues are really driven by social determinants of health…Some of those things don’t change until there are policy changes and big changes in the community.”

A program put in place by St. Elizabeth’s works to make a difference by reaching out to more women than ever before.

The CenteringPregnancy program provides prenatal care and education in a different way. Women who are due to give birth around the same time are assigned to a group. They have greater access to medical professionals and also form friendships.

“That social support, I think has been one of the biggest things that our women have reported back to us that they’ve enjoyed about the program,” said Nicole Parish with CenteringPregnancy at Mercy Health.

Frequently asked questions about the CenteringPregnancy program (PDF)

The women lead the group’s conversations. Just having someone else to turn to removes some of the isolation a pregnant woman might feel.

“They’ve made instant connections to women that are going through the same thing as them. Friendships, people for advice and just people to turn to when they are having problems,” Parish said.

Tatiana Ford says the group has helped her through the first months of her pregnancy.

“It’s pretty much an open conversation. The people that are involved, the mothers that are involved, are able to take charge and pretty much ask any questions, have sidebars, it’s open.”

She urges other mothers to participate.

“Whether you do or don’t feel like you have enough support, go ahead and come to Centering because it’s open and it’s comfortable.”

Sweeney says that no matter how long it takes, the work to improve infant mortality rates is important.

“How you care for the smallest of your community’s residents is how you care for your community.”

For more information on CenteringPregnancy or to sign up, visit The Family Birthplace at St. Elizabeth’s online or call them at 330-729-8600.