Hospitals, state push to reduce infant mortality in Indiana

Seven children out of every 1,000 born in Indiana do not live to see their first birthday. They die of injuries, birth defects, sudden infant death syndrome and maternal complications.

That makes the Indiana the 10th highest in the nation for infant mortality, and first among all northern states.

Increasingly, hospitals and public health officials in Indiana are trying to turn that bleak situation around, offering programs to reduce smoking, obesity and drinking for at-risk mothers. They also promote safe-sleeping educational sessions, to show parents how to reduce the chance for sudden infant death syndrome.

On Oct. 12, Riley Hospital for Children and the Indianapolis Colts will be the latest players to push the issue. The two organizations plan to announce a statewide initiative aimed at reducing infant mortality and educating parents on safe sleep.

The new program will be implemented at all IU Health birthing hospitals across the state, the organizations said. Details will be announced in the main atrium at IU Health North Hospital in Carmel.

Neither the Colts nor Riley Hospital would provide details on the program in advance. But infant mortality has been a big cause for Riley Hospital in recent years.

The hospital is in the process of offering comprehensive maternity services, after IU Health shifts its obstetrics unit over from nearby Methodist Hospital, where more than 3,000 babies a year are born. The move is part of IU Health’s way to address the state’s high infant-mortality rate and keep all newborn services under one roof.

It’s just the latest in a long string of moves that officials will hope make a difference. In Indiana, 595 infants died in 2014 before reaching their first birthday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill into law establishing the Safety Protecting Indiana’s Newborns grant program (known as Safety PIN for short).

“This is not just about the statistics—this is about reducing the heartbreak of infant mortality for Hoosier families,” Pence said at the time.

It set up an outreach program for at-risk mom to provide more prenatal care and get expectant mothers off of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. The General Assembly provided $13.5 million over two years to fund it.

The state also launched a Labor of Love campaign, urging expectant mothers to get prenatal care. (See PSA video here.)

Meanwhile, the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Jerome Adams, is keeping the pressure up, mentioning the state’s alarming statistics on a regular basis, and explaining the state’s plan to combat the issue.

The plan includes heavy promotion of smoking cessation, safe-sleep programs and breastfeeding—all designed to keep infants healthy and viable.

Look for more hospitals to roll out similar programs in coming months. A new group, the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana, has targeted infant mortality and smoking as two of its top issues.

The goal: Raise Indiana’s ranking among healthy states, and get more infants to see their first birthday.

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