Celebrating More First Birthdays Together

Babies are dying at an alarming rate in Erie County. In fact, in the past six years, Erie County’s infant mortality rate was at 8.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. Worse yet, Erie County’s African American babies are dying at a rate nearly three times that, meaning 22.8 African American babies die for every 1,000 born in our county. Those startling statistics call for collaboration from every stakeholder. Every child deserves to have the opportunity to
celebrate their first birthday.

In 2016, Firelands Regional Medical Center began distributing Baby Boxes to every newborn at Firelands. These boxes were provided free of charge as a safe sleeping environment for babies. Now, in collaboration with the Baby Box Company and the state of Ohio, Firelands Regional Medical Center is obtaining the boxes free of charge and adding an important educational component to the gift. Parents watch a short video module on safe sleep in order to receive the box for their baby.

“These boxes have gotten a lot of media attention lately, and for good reason,” says Linda Ricci, RN, BSN, Director of Firelands Center for Women and Newborns. “We want to provide every baby a safe place to sleep, but we also want to make sure parents know how to keep their baby safe and how to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).”

The Baby Box Program

The Baby Box program is just one part of Firelands’ efforts to reduce infant mortality. And Firelands isn’t alone. The “Improving Futures for Healthy Babies Steering Committee” was formed in 2016 to identify causes of infant mortality in Erie County, to identify and combat barriers related to access to care for women of childbearing age and to provide an action plan for all entities to work together to reduce the number of infant deaths in the county. The steering committee has representatives from Firelands Regional Medical Center, local health departments, social service organizations and non-profits within the county.

baby box program

“The steering committee has met several times to brainstorm about the root causes that exist relating to infant mortality in Erie County and how we can best get messaging about ways to keep babies from dying to the people who need it most,” Ricci says.

Among the most prevalent causes of infant mortality, both in Erie County and nationwide are premature birth, unsafe sleeping practices, spacing of births and unplanned pregnancies, and smoking and/or substance abuse while pregnant.

The committee plans to roll out messaging about prenatal care access on bus wraps on public transportation and other venues. The committee has also begun work on a standardized survey that will help all area providers to begin the conversation on family planning with women they see, regardless of the reason for their visit.

“Preventing infant mortality really starts before conception,” Ricci says, “so the earlier providers can see women, the better. The idea is to ask women if they plan to conceive and then begin a dialogue about contraceptive options and/or lifestyle choices that make sense for their needs.”

The state government has garnered interest in infant mortality as Ohio ranks among the worst in infant mortality statistics in the country, coming in at 47 out of 50. In an effort to reverse these statistics, state legislators introduced a Senate bill requiring hospitals to offer long-acting reversible contraceptives to women as part of postnatal care in the hospital, beginning in July.

“This mandate helps to address the issue of spacing, which contributes to infant death, by providing women with a contraceptive option before they leave the hospital,” says Ricci.

The contraceptive will be covered by Medicaid and private insurance, meaning patients will incur little to no cost.

“The infant mortality reduction effort is truly comprehensive in nature in both Erie County and throughout the state,” says Ricci. “There are a lot of components and entities that must work together in order to make a difference for babies. We are proud to be a part of this effort as the only place where babies are born in Erie County.”