Lowering La Porte County’s Infant Death Rate is Key Focus of Healthcare Foundation of La Porte

Lowering La Porte County’s Infant Death Rate is Key Focus of Healthcare Foundation of La Porte
By: Contributor, Elise Sims Last Updated: December 2, 2022

Healthcare Foundation of La Porte (HFL) is working to ensure infants not only survive but thrive  during their first year of life. According to Maria Fruth, chief executive officer, statistics show  that more than 40% of pregnant women in La Porte County receive little, late, or no prenatal  care. Babies born to mothers who do not receive prenatal care are three times more likely to die  than those born to mothers with care. La Porte County’s infant mortality rate is higher than the  state of Indiana and the national average. Two of the major causes of infant death, preterm birth  and low birth weight, are also above the state and national averages.  

“One of the primary functions of the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte is to bring resources,  expertise, and partners to the table to solve the major health and wellness issues in our  community,” said Fruth. “Infant mortality, preterm birth, and low birth weight are major issues  in our community and have been reflected in our strategic plan since HFL’s beginning.” 

Key Terms and Definitions Related to Infant Death 

Infant mortality is the death of a baby before its first birthday, and the infant mortality rate is  the number of deaths per 1,000 live births for babies within their first year of life. Preterm birth  is when a baby is born prior to 37 weeks of gestation. Low birth weight is when a baby weighs  less than five pounds eight ounces at birth.  

Partners for Healthier Babies 

In 2019, HFL brought partners together to form the Partners for Healthier Babies (PHB) Council  to address high rates of infant death, low birth weight babies, and preterm births in La Porte  County. The council, an initiative of HFL, is a collaboration between medical providers, state  and local public health agencies, nonprofit organizations, parents, and community members that  aims to make a positive impact on birth outcomes.  

“Members were invited to the table to help us plan, strategize, organize, and implement  evidence-based programs,” Mary Wellnitz, special projects manager, said. “We examine the  social, cultural, and safety aspects of fetal health, and identify service gaps that are associated  with infant mortality. It takes a village!” Wellnitz highlighted that the council determined that  unsafe sleep practices are a key factor in infant deaths in La Porte County. 

Members of the Partners for Healthier Babies Council work with families, women (pregnant or  not), babies, and fathers to offer resources that connect residents with comprehensive prenatal  care, including prenatal nutrition education, oral health care, and mental health supports.  Members also connect people to additional resources including transportation, employment,  housing, legal aid, rent and utility assistance, medical insurance, domestic violence, parenting,  addiction, smoking, HIV, and others.

The PHB Council also created a Healthy Pregnancy | Healthy Babies | Healthy Families  directory, housed on HFL’s Ten2030 website, providing a directory of free services for moms,  dads, and families in La Porte County.  

The Partners for Healthier Babies Council identified that unsafe sleep practices were causing on  average 10 infant deaths per year in La Porte County. As part of the solution, the council  launched a Safe Sleep Campaign as part of October’s Safe Sleep Month. The purpose of the  ongoing campaign is to make safe sleep practices the norm in La Porte County. “We want all  medical providers, agencies, parents, grandparents, babysitters, and childcare providers saying  the same messages in unison---over and over,” Wellnitz said.  

Fetal Infant Mortality Review 

Under the guidance of the PHB Council and with funding from HFL, a Fetal Infant Mortality  Review (FIMR) Team was created as another strategy to reduce the rising infant mortality rate.  FIMR is an action-oriented community process that continually assesses, monitors, and works to  improve service systems and community resources for women, infants, and families. 

FIMR teams review the circumstances surrounding the lives and deaths of mothers and infants  and provide findings to community action teams (CAT), who develop recommendations to  improve birth outcomes and reduce infant mortality rates.  

“We gather the information on these cases which have occurred and bring it to the team for an  impartial review and discussion,” said FIMR coordinator Peggy Rose. “During the FIMR review  process, we attempt to contact the family and have a conversation about the loss so we can look  at some of the factors that may have contributed to the infant’s death. At the end of every case,  we ask if this case was preventable. Then we take our recommendations to the CAT. In La Porte  County, the Partners for Healthier Babies Council is the CAT, which operates in conjunction  with HFL. The CAT’s goal is to see what recommendations will improve services at a systems  level to help avoid these deaths in the future.” 

“I am a strong proponent of public health--greater good for the greater number of people,” Rose  said. “These deaths are tragic. It looks as though some of them can be prevented. As a  community health nurse for the past 20 years, I am hoping I will be able to draw on some of  those connections to help make a change and help bring these numbers down.” 

Continued Support for Maternal, Fetal, and Infant Health 

Beyond founding the PHB Council and funding the creation of La Porte County’s FIMR team,  HFL has supported several programs and projects aimed at reducing infant mortality.  

One such noteworthy achievement is the launch of the Grassroots Maternal Child Health  Initiative & Leaders in La Porte County under the leadership of Dr. Jack Turman, Professor,  Dept. of Social & Behavioral Science, R.M. Fairbanks School of Public Health, Indiana  University-IUPUI, Director, Grassroots MCH Initiative, funded primarily by the Riley 

Children’s Foundation. The initiative’s mission is to build the capacity of community members  and organizations to bring about systems change that improves maternal and child health  outcomes in marginalized (Black and Hispanic) neighborhoods. 

HFL also provided funding for a full-time perinatal social worker at Northwest Health –  La Porte. The position allows for comprehensive support for mothers and families at both the  La Porte and Michigan City women’s health clinics.  

Most recently, HFL launched a Safe Sleep Campaign, beginning in October to coincide with  Safe Sleep Month. The campaign includes education, first responder training, signage and  billboards throughout the county, and the “Diapering Together to Raise Awareness” diaper  collection challenge to provide parents with costly diapers and educate parents on safe sleep  practices.  

Fruth stated, “We are grateful for our many community partners and appreciative of the work  that each member of the Partners for Healthier Babies Council does individually and  collaboratively as a council,” Fruth said. “It is extremely important to us to continue to bring  partners together to reduce the infant deaths in our community.” 

To date, HFL has invested approximately $1 million in projects and programs aimed at reducing  infant mortality, preterm birth, and low birth weight in La Porte County. HFL’s total investment  in the community now tops $36 million invested in projects and programs supporting health and  wellness in La Porte County.  

For more information about the health initiatives for young mothers and their babies at HFL,  visit https://www.hflaporte.org/healthier-babies and https://www.hflaporte.org/safe-sleep.