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Infant Deaths Decrease In Franklin County, But Officials Aren't Claiming Victory Yet

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The Ohio Department of Health said Wednesday that infant mortality has recently increased in the state as a whole. But in Franklin County, the number of deaths actually went down.

WOSU's Sam Hendren talks to Liane Egle, executive director of CelebrateOne, a group that was formed following the work of the Franklin County Infant Mortality Task Force.

The below is an automated transcript. Please excuse minor typos and errors.

Sam Hendren: First of all, what is CelebrateOne?

Liane Egle: CelebrateOne is Columbus's, what we call, collective impact initiative to reduce infant mortality. And it was formed to implement the plan that was developed by the greater Columbus infant mortality task force that was convened by then-City Council president, now-Mayor Andrew Ginther.

Sam Hendren: That started about 2014?

Liane Egle: That's correct. And then CelebrateOne really got off the ground at the beginning of 2015.

Sam Hendren: Well, is it true that the infant mortality rate in Franklin County is declining?

Liane Egle: We did see a dip in the numbers during 2015 but we have to be very cautious in interpreting those results.

Sam Hendren: And why is that?

Liane Egle: Well because, if you look at this data over time it tends to go up and down a little bit. Our plan for CelebrateOne is a five-year plan and we fully anticipate that it will take concentrated efforts over those five years to make sure that we have a downward trend that really helps us to reach our goal of bringing down the infant mortality rate by 40 percent.

Sam Hendren: Are there things that CelebrateOne is doing now that could have contributed to a decrease in mortality? Are there things that you've implemented that are being successful?

Liane Egle: We would like to think so and we do have some indicators of early success. For example, one of our partners, the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services, was very successful in 2015 in getting more women enrolled in Medicaid, particularly pregnant women and women of childbearing age. That means that they're able to access prenatal care and access it early in their pregnancy. And we know that that does have an impact. We also know that in 2015 we launched a media campaign around the importance of safe sleep, following the ABCs of safe sleep: babies sleep alone, on their backs, and in an empty crib. And so we did a significant campaign there to educate people about that.

So we have done a number of things. We have strategies actually in many different areas focusing on women, pregnant women, babies and also neighborhoods with the highest rates of infant mortality. We have a number of strategies and we have seen some early successes, but as I said, it's going to take the full five years ‘til we're really able to claim victory on this. This is a significant issue.

Sam Hendren: Do you think there are things that you are doing here in Franklin County that other counties can learn from and implement?

Liane Egle: Absolutely. We actually borrowed from other cities across the country that have been successful in bringing down their rates, so we've borrowed from what other cities have been successful with. But I think one of our most significant strategies is really our neighborhood approach, looking at those neighborhoods that have the highest rates of infant mortality right here in Columbus and then working with residents in those neighborhoods to come up with solutions.

We've also, a unique program that we have is that we are training community health workers, who are individuals from those eight high priority neighborhoods, to be community health workers and then they are our kind of boots on the ground to reach out to women and families and connect them to resources. That's kind of a unique program.

A lot of communities actually across the country are looking at that and helping to implement that because we see that that's really, those are the influencers, the people that are from those communities. So we're seeing some initial success there and we're getting good support from the neighborhood in terms of that strategy.

Sam Hendren: When you talk about those eight neighborhoods, are those low-income neighborhoods?

Liane Egle: They tend to be, and they are some of the neighborhoods that face other challenges. They may have high unemployment, they may have limited access to nutritious foods, high crime, low graduation rates, so they're neighborhoods that face many, many challenges. And so we're really focused on assisting them, and as I said, working with them to identify solutions.