Rep. Banks leads discussion on high local infant mortality Rates in two areas of Allen County are among highest in state.

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-3rd) opened the discussion Wednesday by saying he was there to listen and learn. He left with a better understanding of factors causing the high infant mortality rate in Allen County and local efforts to reduce it.

“I need to learn more about some of the grant programs that fund current programs,” and how he may be able to support programs at the federal level, Banks said at the conclusion of the meeting at the Fort Wayne Urban League.

About 40 representatives from local hospitals and health-care and social-service organizations attended the meeting. Banks asked a few people to open the session by presenting information on the topic, but that left only a few minutes for discussion.

Most talk focused on high infant mortality rate in southeast Fort Wayne’s 46806 ZIP Code area, which totaled 14.3 deaths per 1,000 live births for the period 2011-2015, the most recent data available. The rate is nearly as high – 11.3 deaths per 1,000 live births – in the 46805 ZIP code area, which includes the city’s near-northeast side, said Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams, who attended the meeting.

The 46806 ZIP has the third highest infant mortality rate in the state, and the 46805 Zip Code is 10th highest. Infant mortality rates track the deaths of infants from birth to 1 year old.

Reducing the infant mortality rate in the 46806 and 46805 ZIP codes would significantly cut the infant mortality rate in Allen County and would help reduce the state’s rate of 7.08 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, Adams said. The latter figure ranks Indiana 10th worst among the 50 U.S. states.

People should care about infant mortality rates because they are the No. 1 indicator of overall health in a community, Adams said. The rates reflect the health of women before they become pregnant as well as the care provided at home for infants, older children and adults.

Other speakers included Dr. Garry Walker of the African-American Healthcare Alliance of Fort Wayne and Erin Norton, clinical research nurse and program coordinator for Parkview Health’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

Along with providing data on infant mortality rates locally, regionally and nationally, Walker spoke about the higher infant mortality rates for African-American infants compared with white infants. For example, in the 46806 ZIP code, the mortality rate for African-American infants is 21.9 per 1,000 live births, compared with 9 per 1,000 births for white infants. Likewise, in the 46805 ZIP code, the infant mortality rates are 26.5 for African Americans and 9.8 for whites.

Key contributors to high infant mortality rates include obesity of the mother, lack of prenatal care and no easy access to healthy food.

“We’ve got to have the right resources in the right places to solve the problem,” he added, saying the community needs a grocery store in the middle of the 46806 ZIP code area.

Norton spoke about how local health-care providers are working together and now are trying to implement five recommendations resulting from the Allen County Fetal Infant Mortality Review, which studies the circumstances of all infant deaths.

The recommendations include:

* Increase and improve mental-health screening of women while pregnant and after they have delivered a baby. Depression and anxiety are common problems, and they can adversely affect a baby’s health, both before and after birth.

* Improve the referral of pregnant women or new moms to service providers and community resources to make it easier for the women to access services and programs.

* Improve prenatal education by making pregnant women aware of resources and services, providing information when women need it and by involving the baby’s father in the process. Some women don’t recognize the symptoms of premature labor when it happens later in their pregnancy.

* Encourage women to maintain good health and to eat healthy foods from childhood on so they are healthy when they become pregnant. In 18 of the 23 fetal death cases reviewed, the mothers were overweight or obese.

* Ensure babies always sleep in a safe environment by providing ongoing education on safe sleep practices and by referring new mothers to resources that can help them provide their baby with a safe sleeping setting.

Allen County has a higher Sudden Infant Death Syndrome death rate than other counties in the state, so state health commissioner Adams recommended local officials make addressing safe sleep a priority. Infants also face increased sleep danger because of the high use of opioid drugs by parents, he said.

He also suggested local officials try to address unwanted pregnancies, which can lead to abortions and infant deaths. Fetal Infant Mortality Review data indicates a large number of mothers whose infant died didn’t want to have a baby at that time.

Adams also cautioned that, because of attitudes about taxes and funding, less government funds likely will be available for programs to address infant mortality and other issues. Service providers will have to get better at writing grant applications if they want to receive any funding. Providers also should contact their state and federal elected officials to press for funding of programs they need, he said.

For example, a state program had supported safe infant sleeping by providing funds to get a new mother a portable crib if she doesn’t have a safe place for her baby to sleep, said Carmen Moore, manager of Parkview Health’s community nursing program. That funding recently was cut by the Indiana Department of Child Services, so the Parkview Community Health Improvement program currently is providing funds to buy the cribs, Moore said. <br>

<center> High infant mortality areas </center><br>

These ZIP code areas in Fort Wayne are among the 10 highest in the state in infant mortality:

* 46806, 14.3 deaths per 1,000 live births: Bounded roughly by Pontiac Street, the railroad tracks and Moeller Road on the north, Hartzell Road on the east, Paulding Road on the south, and Calhoun Street on the west.

* 46805, 11.3 deaths per 1,000 live births: Bounded roughly by Coliseum Boulevard on the north and east, the Maumee River on the south and Clinton Street and Lima Road on the west.