A child’s first birthday is cause for celebration thanks to the impressive milestones he/she achieves and the parents who support the growth and development of their baby. Sadly, though, Ohio consistently ranks in the top 10 nationally for highest rates of infant mortality, or death of a child before his/her first birthday. In Summit County alone, nearly 43% of infant deaths are due to prematurity (babies born before 37 weeks), and black women in Summit County are disproportionately affected by early birth.
In an effort to reduce Summit County infant mortality numbers, Akron Children’s has partnered with the Summit County Pathways HUB. The HUB works with a variety of community partners to leverage resources and offer health and social services to help babies, and families, celebrate more first birthdays.
“One of the best things we can do as a community is to wrap our collective arms around these moms who we know because of socioeconomic, demographic or geographic reasons are at a higher risk of having preterm babies or not seeing their baby reach that first birthday,” said Robin Naples, prematurity program coordinator and social worker at Akron Children’s Maternal Fetal Medicine. “We have a moral obligation to do everything we can to educate and support these moms … we’re proud to be a part of a system of caring for these families.”
Two years ago, Akron Children’s joined the Summit County Pathways HUB, which is part of a national network of community-based initiatives that work under a common set of national standards and certifications to assist families. The HUB relies on community health workers (CHW) who reach out to at-risk individuals through home visits and community-based work. Upon meeting, CHW complete a comprehensive assessment of factors such as health, social, behavioral health and economic that may place the individual at increased risk.
Pregnant women are often referred to Akron Children’s through the HUB. The hospital’s language access department has 3 full-time and 1 part-time CHW in Summit County, and 2 full-time CHW in Mahoning Valley, who get individuals enrolled in the HUB system, determine their needs and begin building relationships with other community organizations to support the family.
“We go through check lists to make sure moms and children are in a healthy and safe environment …our CHWs work to improve nutrition, promote immunization and provide education on specific health issues that will allow mom and baby to thrive,” said Roula Braidy, manager of Language and Special Access Services at Akron Children’s. “We also try to connect them to health care systems and social services, provide culturally-appropriate care and give informal counseling and referrals to ensure they’re receiving the attention they need.”
Each identified risk factor is tracked in the HUB system as a “pathway” that confirms the risk is addressed through connections or interventions with outside resources. The pathway then becomes a tool for confirming that each risk factor is addressed and that outcomes have improved.
“The most basic needs – housing, education, benefits and employment – are some of the big hurdles we face with families in the HUB,” said Braidy. “That’s where we rely on community partners, or connections, to help find services and programs to help mom. Our CHWs then follow-up with mom to make sure she understands next steps and fills out the right paperwork because sometimes literacy and language are barriers to success.”
The latest data for Ohio shows infant mortality rate (IMR) for whites is 9.5% and for blacks it is 14.3%. Although Summit County’s data from 2006 to 2015 is slightly better than state averages, it shows black IMR is double that of whites, 12.6% and 5.7% respectively.
Reducing infant mortality means addressing the primary factors driving it. In Summit County, the leading causes of infant mortality in the last 10 years were prematurity, sleep-related death, congenital defects and other causes, including accidental.
Akron Children’s believes systems like the HUB that take a holistic approach to educating and supporting individuals at risk are key to reducing prematurity and the gap in infant mortality rates among races.
While prematurity is the number one cause of infant death, preterm birth infants are also at risk for long-term health problems including lung and breathing problems, body temperature control, cerebral palsy, learning and behavior difficulties and brain, spinal cord and nervous system issues. These health issues can be challenging for families to pay for, and cope with, on their own.
“Many of our moms need benefits before and after a baby is born so we help them every step of the way,” said Braidy. “We help them fill out applications, make doctor appointments, meet them at the appointment, if needed, schedule transportation, help with social security benefits, pickup prescriptions, and the list goes on.”
Beyond paperwork and managing appointments, CHWs also ensure mom is connected to services that can help with best practices for caring for a newborn.
“We don’t provide clinical care at homes, rather we educate and give mom tools to help care for baby. We educate moms on how to create a safe sleep environment for her baby, use car seats properly and make sure baby gets to wellness visits,” said Braidy. “We also make sure mom is taking care of her health – mentally and physically – which helps keep baby safe and healthy.”
Currently, Akron Children’s has 90 active clients.
“It’s important that moms know they’re not alone…it’s a big commitment for everyone,” said Braidy. “We’re proud to build bridges with agencies in our community to help moms make the connections needed to succeed and to celebrate that first year of life with their baby.”
Individuals can self-refer to the Summit County Pathways HUB by calling 330-940-1130.