November 28, 2014


State infant mortality rate among worst in nation

It’s the kind of statistic that can’t be explained, even though program after program is aimed at targeting it at the local and state levels.

Simply put, babies born in Ohio are at a higher risk of not seeing their first birthday than most other states.

State officials, in a recently released report, chart Ohio’s infant mortality rate as one of the worst in the nation. While the national rate dropped by 11 percent from 2000 to 2010, it increased 3 percent in Ohio over that same period, according to statistics.

“No matter how we slice this problem, it’s significant,” said state Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, who also chairs the Medicaid, Health and Human Services Committee. “It’s way worse than the national average.”

Jones said she plans to bring the issue to Senate health discussions as well as local health leaders and the public so lawmakers can better understand the problem.

The infant-mortality rate counts any death of a child younger than 1. The Ohio Department of Health said the top causes of infant deaths include low birth weight, birth defects and sudden infant death syndrome.

Katy Tobel, of the SID Network of Ohio, said legislators can help the most by providing the necessary funding for a stronger education campaign.

“Lack of funding limits what you can do, where you can go and the people can reach,” she said.

Tobel, of Brunswick, started her work with the organization in 1998 after her son died from SIDS when he was just shy of 5 months old.

“I joined because I initially needed the support for myself and then I stayed because I wanted to be a support to others,” she said. “I’m not surprised to hear Ohio still remains high on infant mortality. There are so many things that play into it from education to race to economics.”

Tobel said the main focus of the SID Network of Ohio, the only organization solely geared toward decreasing infant deaths related to SIDS in the state, is to fundraise and purchase a very simple article of clothing that carries a strong message.

“We want to make sure that every baby born in the state receives a onesie with the message, ‘back to sleep is best,’ ” Tobel said. “It has been proven that the safest way for a baby to sleep is on its back in a crib that has nothing in it. No blankets, stuffed animals or bumper pads.”

Dr. Ted Wymyslo, the state Health Department director, said it’s a community problem and that many deaths can be prevented by improving health even before conception.

On Tuesday, Wymyslo announced a new partnership among local health departments, the state department and CityMatCH, an organization that connects health agencies to solve problems. It will focus on trying to halt the high mortality rates and address the widening gap between white and black rates.

The state’s infant mortality rate is 7.7 deaths per 1,000 births, putting Ohio 48th in the nation. The rate for black babies is 49th.

The partnership allows Ohio’s urban centers to tap national experts and a wealth of information about the issue, Wymyslo said.

“There’s no reason to justify that if you’re a black infant born in Ohio, you have 2.5 times the risk of dying before your birthday than if you were a white infant born in Ohio,” he said.

Debbie Morog, public health and nursing supervisor for the Elyria Health District, said the local statistics are heartbreaking.

For black babies, the rate is 15.9 deaths per 1,000 births. The rate for white babies is 6.9 deaths per 1,000 births.

“To see those numbers are a real eye-opener because I know we have been doing everything we can to change this. The goal among our agency is not to have any infant deaths,” she said.

The unexpected nature of losing a child to SIDS will often cause a family to shut down and not want to talk about their loss, said Imam Paul Hasan of Interfaith Ministries.

He speaks from experience. In October 2012, his grandson, then just 5 weeks old, slid between a couch and couch cushion at his home and suffocated. Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans ruled the cause of death as sudden infant death syndrome from an unsafe sleep position.

“It’s a tragic thing to happen to a family, to lose a loved one like that,” Hasan said. “It affects the whole family.”

Hasan, who now often tells the people he ministers to guard their children and be constantly aware of where they are, said more education and information needs to flow into the community.

“It’s hard to talk about, but we have to if we want this to stop,” he said.

State health officials said a new effort will focus on trying to reduce the infant mortality rate.

“With seven medical schools, nursing schools, medical-research facilities and a variety of high-quality hospitals, “it’s a surprise to everyone that our outcomes really aren’t indicative of the capability we have in our delivery system,” Wymyslo said. “This is not just a problem of delivery rooms.”

Morog said Elyria has chosen to tackle the problem from pregnancy to toddlerhood by embracing programs like the Ohio Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative and Help Me Grow.

The first deals almost exclusively with black women from the time of pregnancy to when their children are 2 and incorporates education with monthly home visits. The Help Me Grow program is for any pregnant woman and follows her until a child is 3. It mainly focuses on making sure children hit developmental benchmarks.

“We want to make sure these mothers have access to all available resources in the community,” Morog said. “We don’t want to signal out a group, but statistics are telling us we need a more-targeted education campaign.”

The success of the Ohio Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative, in existence in Elyria for more than 10 years, is marked by each celebrated birthday for a child. There are 50 families enrolled in the program.

“And, we haven’t had an infant death in at least the last three years of the women who have been in the program,” Morog said. “That’s how we know it works.”

Help for parents

  • SID Network of Ohio (800) 477-7434
  • Lorain County Help Me Grow helpline (800) 729-8687

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or

  • KZ14

    Unwed Mothers living on government assistance and we need to spend more money on them? How about not having babies until your ready and can afford it? Birth control is also free to you but you have to go get it that’s all not real hard.

    • Bob Owens

      ? Free?

      • Faith Coviello

        I agree. Nothing is truly “free.” Where is this “free” birth control?

        Where is the funding for that “free” birth control coming from?

        I don’t agree with forcing women to take hormonal birth control, which can be detrimental to your overall health in the long run, ether. I do however, support the education of NFP and alike. Informed decisions are the best decisions.

    • Faith Coviello

      I have always found this type of attitude to be overly disgusting and judgmental. Please enlighten me as to your definition of someone being able to “afford children.” If we went solely on income and things people own of monetary value, we could say the majority of the U.S. shouldn’t have children. Most people still owe on their mortgage, cars, credit cards, student debt, etc. I guess those people shouldn’t have children either with your logic. They need to take care of all of that junk they’re “borrowing” before they can “afford” children. Right? Complete and utter nonsense.

      Children aren’t materialistic items and cannot be measured by money.

      I’ll stay on the other side of that fence and say people probably shouldn’t have those things until they can take care of their kids. Kids first, materialistic crap last.

      • Zen Grouch

        “Children aren’t materialistic items and cannot be measured by money.”

        I agree wholeheartedly!

        No matter how many children you have or don’t have, if you’re on welfare, you get a flat rate, because a baby can survive on a mother’s love alone!

  • hottamomma

    i say anyone on welfare that wants a check and food stamps should have to be spayed or neutered!

  • Trisha

    This article is right under the one about a mother leaving her son with someone and not even remembering where! AND right by the one with the Grandmother leaving her 1 yr old grandkid outside on 21st street in Lorain without any supervision! GEE I wonder why these kids are dying before the age of 1!!?? Irresponsible parenting! That’s all it amounts to!!

  • oldruss

    The article stated that, ” [The] public health and nursing supervisor for the Elyria Health District, said the local statistics are heartbreaking. For black babies, the rate is 15.9 deaths per 1,000 births. The rate for white babies is 6.9 deaths per 1,000 births.”

    That is a significant statistical difference between “white babies” and “black babies”. There was no mention of Hispanic babies, and I presume that they are being included among those identified as “white babies”, along with Asian, Native American, and other Census classifications of race.

    What the article failed to say, was what are the causes for this wide disparity in infant mortality rates? Surely, that information is not unknown to the Elyria public health district. What are “white mothers” doing that “black mothers” are not doing, or conversely, what are “white mothers” NOT doing that “black mothers” are?

    At one time, poverty could probably be given as a primary cause for such a disparity, but with SNAP, WIC, and other federal anti-poverty programs including the Earned Income Tax Credit, HEAP, etc., there seemingly are a plethora of programs, and agencies, both federal and state, that are set up to provide needed aid to all economically disadvantaged mothers regardless of race.

    Another factor that distinguishes families along racial lines is whether or not a child is born to a teenage mother.

    “A study by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that, in the United
    States, Hispanic teenagers (age 15-19) have the highest pregnancy rates at
    81.8, while White non-Hispanic teenage girls have the least at 27.2, with Black
    non-Hispanic girls in the middle at 64.2 per 1,000 women in 2007.” – Kelsey Pinault, “Teenage pregnancy rates affected by location, race”, School of Communication, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida,
    While I am assuming that teenage pregnancy adversely affects infant mortality rates, I feel rather certain that with a little research, statistical studies validating that assumption will be readily found.
    The article pointed out a serious issue of which we all need to be more aware, and hopefully a follow up article can provide some answers as to the causes of this disparity in infant mortality rates between the different races, and offer some additional solutions to the myriad of government programs, both federal and state, that we already have in place.

    • Zen Grouch

      Interesting statistics. But I wonder what percentage, by race, of those teens having babies are married. I’m guessing most of the Hispanic girls give birth while married. But that’s just a guess…

  • Angelboys

    You cannot legislate away ignorance. Many of these mothers don’t want to finish school, use alcohol and drugs, ……what is the government to do about that? This is mostly a natural selection issue—and these mother’s problem NOT the governments….no matter what color they are.

    Our daughter in law’s friend put her newborn in a bean bag chair and the baby suffocated and died. YOU cannot make people smart…..stupid wins out every time. My heart goes out to the babies…..what WAS in store for them was not good with the parents they had so I try to believe they are in heaven now and better off. The mothers should be neutered like dogs.

  • Don Grantzki

    All one need do is read the local papers to see that getting through the first couple of years alive may lead to a child being killed by playing in the street while their mom is sleeping off a hangover in lieu of keeping a watchful eye.