Stark County THRIVE helps curb infant mortality rate

Stark County THRIVE is working to ensure that more babies in Stark County celebrate their first birthdays.

In 2013, the Ohio Department of Health identified Stark County as one of nine communities in the state with the highest infant mortality rates and a wide racial disparity between the rate of deaths in black infants and white infants.

Canton City Public Health launched a county-wide collaborative, Stark County THRIVE (Toward Health Resiliency for Infant Vitality and Equity), to narrow that gap and reduce the county’s overall rate.

Dawn Miller, Stark County THRIVE Project Manager, said they worked with Canton City Public Health’s epidemiologist to identify where interventions were most needed.

“We determined we have great newborn care. We have a lot of hospitals and NICUs,” said Miller. “But the data showed that we could make the biggest impact in preventing prenatal deaths and pre-term births by focusing more on getting women into early prenatal care and reducing the number of sleep related deaths.”

Prenatal care and safe sleep programs

THRIVE uses a variety of approaches to address the three leading causes of infant death: low birth weight, pre-term birth and unsafe sleep environments. One of the approaches is the evidenced-based group prenatal care program called, CenteringPregnancy®, available at Alliance Family Health Center and My Community Health Center.

“Through this program, we get women with similar due dates together to talk about not only their pregnancies and body changes, but also to identify social issues or what we call social determinates of health,” she said. “So, what are their housing needs? Is there a history of domestic violence? What’s the father’s involvement both in the pregnancy and post-birth care? At these meetings, the women also get their belly checks, so it’s their prenatal care appointment as well as wrap around support.”

THRIVE staff participated on the Safe Sleep Task Force led by Stark County Health Department. Over fifteen agencies worked to implement a series of safe sleep awareness campaigns and provide safe sleep environments by distributing pack-n-plays and sleep sacks through the Cribs for Kids program.

A community collaborative

Stark County THRIVE Community Healthcare Workers

The THRIVE Pathways HUB coordinates care with 11 community agencies including: Access Health Stark County, Akron Children’s Hospital, Alliance Family Health Center, CommQuest, Margaret B. Shipley Child Health Clinic, My Community Health Center, Stark Community Support Network, Stark County Job and Family Services, Stark County Health Department, Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority and YWCA of Canton. These agencies employ community health workers to provide monthly in-home assessments, education, and connect women to resources for housing, transportation, health care and other essential services. Since the fall of 2016, THRIVE community health workers have served over 1,100 pregnant women, caregivers of a child under age one, and adults with chronic diseases.

Miller said THRIVE works with a variety of community partners and referring agencies, as well as the Stark County Fatherhood Coalition, Community Legal Aid, Early Childhood Resource Center, Stark MHAR, and Domestic Violence Project.

“We’re able to engage with grassroots organizations and faith communities,” she said. “We recognize that government agencies are not always the ones to reach the most at-risk populations for a multitude of reasons, so it was important that we work together with smaller organizations to do outreach and education.” Other partners include Mary Church Terrell Federated Club, Family Empowerment Ministries, and the George Dunwoody Foundation.

Signs of significant progress

THRIVE has made tremendous strides to educate the community and lower the infant mortality and disparity rate.

Preliminary data for 2019 reflects 21 infant deaths, a decrease from 38 in 2017. This decrease puts the 2019 overall infant mortality rate (number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births) in Stark County at 5.1, below the Healthy People 2020 goal of 6.0 per 1,000 live births, and below the 2017 infant mortality rate of 9.0. The disparity rate ratio, which measures equity between Non-Hispanic/Latinx Black/African American and Non-Hispanic/Latinx White infant deaths, is also continuing to improve. From 2017-2019, for everyone Non-Hispanic/Latinx White infant death, Stark County experienced 1.5 Non-Hispanic/Latinx Black/African American infant deaths, a 50% improvement from the 3.0 rate ratio from 2010-2012.

While Stark County THRIVE has the privilege of reporting these improvements, it is the collaboration and partnership between Stark County residents, organizations, agencies and businesses focused on improving infant vitality and preventing and reducing rates of infant deaths and racial disparities in birth outcomes that is the driving force.

Looking forward to 2020 and beyond, we hope to see continued improvements in infant vitality and equity in birth outcomes for all families in Stark County.

Miller said although the program is making progress, she remains cautiously optimistic.

“Just because our numbers look good and we’ve met our 2020 goal, now is not the time to take our foot off the gas,” she said. “We have to continue to educate and support programming like this.”

To connect with a THRIVE community health worker, complete the referral form on the Canton City Public Health website. To support THRIVE and other early childhood health programs funded by United Way of Greater Stark County, make a donation today.