CRH Leads Effort to Decrease Infant Mortality Rates

by Delilah Newton | Sep 30, 2020

The last thing anyone wants to experience, or watch a loved one go through, is the unimaginable grief of losing a new baby. However, infant deaths continue to rise at alarming rates; so, Columbus Regional Health, alongside many community groups, is working to reverse the odds.

Indiana has the seventh highest rate in the country at 7.3 deaths per 1,000 births. The national average is 5.8 per 1,000. In 2015, Bartholomew County had the worst infant mortality data in the state. Infant mortality is defined as any death of a child before his or her first birthday.

“It was really a wakeup call,” said Patty Pigman, L.C.S.W., co-coordinator of Infant Mortality Prevention for Healthy Communities. “We knew we had to do something.” Healthy Communities is a collaborative effort comprised of Columbus Regional Health, schools, businesses, local government, churches and others working together to address identified health needs. Healthy Communities Infant Mortality Prevention Action Team is serving as the catalyst to drive infant mortality prevention work in south central Indiana, through the direction of Rachel Reed, M.D., Action Team Chair. 

Risk Factors
As a result of the alarming data, in 2018, Columbus Regional Hospital formed one of the first Fetal and Infant Mortality Review (FIMR) teams in the region.

The interdisciplinary team meets to review every case of infant death by gathering information and reviewing details of infant loss, and then discussing whether they were potentially preventable. This work can help identify potential risk factors that can lead to an increased chance of infant death, and it helps inform the outreach efforts of the awareness and education teams in the community.

Chris Newkirk, B.S.N., R.N., Columbus Regional Health Clinical Quality Advisor and FIMR case abstractor, said that a variety of risk factors contribute to infant mortality, from the environment the baby is coming into to the mother’s personal health, even before pregnancy.

“The health of the mother affects the health of an infant, so when we think of a community (Bartholomew County) with high rates of smoking, illicit substance use, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. — those all play into the birth of a healthy baby,” Newkirk said. “And only 68% of Indiana moms receive prenatal care. Without that care, doctors cannot ensure that the mother is as healthy as she can be during her pregnancy.”

In 2019, Healthy Communities founded the Infant Mortality Prevention Action Team. Pigman and Amanda Virostko, co-coordinator of the Infant Mortality Prevention Team of Healthy Communities, lead the action team, which consists of more than 50 members representing key organizations, including police and fire departments, local physicians, nurses, social workers, higher education, social service agencies and more. The team discusses issues identified by the Bartholomew County FIMR team and works to create communitywide solutions.

“We wanted everyone at the same table discussing this issue,” Newkirk said. “We are looking at both the mom’s health and infant’s health. In our first year, we are really trying to focus on tobacco cessation, providing connections to substance abuse treatment and infant safe sleep education.”

Safe Sleep Practices
Safe sleep is one of the most controversial topics discussed.

“A big part of the work is helping people understand that it doesn’t just happen to ‘other people.’ It can happen to anyone, and it is 100% preventable,” Pigman said. “There are still people out there who don’t believe that safe sleep practices matter. Behavior really must change. Safe sleep is hard, but your baby is worth it.”

Every member of the action team has been through Safe Sleep Ambassador training, and Pigman said anyone caring for a child in any capacity should go through the training.

Healthy Communities is also working with Family Service Inc. on creating a postpartum mood disorder support group and providing more resources for moms who
experience depression and anxiety.

“Pediatricians in town now screen more moms for depression at follow-up appointments, and there are protocols in place to get them help,” said Virostko. “It’s giving moms another touch point and another set of tools. Moms have to be mentally and physically healthy to be capable of caring for their babies.”

Virostko and Pigman presented at the seventh annual Labor of Love conference in Indianapolis in late 2019. The event is focused on improving outcomes for infants in Indiana.

“We all want what is best for our babies and mothers,” Pigman said. “When we started our community team, there were only six other teams like it in the state. Now the state continues to work hard on growing this network.”

Know Your ABC’s
Your infant should always sleep:

A - Alone
Not with other people, pillows, blankets or stuffed animals.

B - On his or her back. Not on the stomach or side.

C - In a crib. Not on an adult bed, sofa, cushion or other soft surface.

Healthy Communities is devoted to helping prevent infant deaths. Other work underway includes:

  • Achieving the Gold Safe Sleep Leader Certification Designation by Crib for Kids.
  • Training community members as safe-sleep ambassadors. The Department of Child Services and the Columbus Police Department are committed to ensuring all their employees are trained safe-sleep ambassadors. Healthy Communities is also putting processes in place to extend this training to new parents before they go home with their newborns, as well as day care centers.
  • Providing resources for tobacco cessation and providing local care for mothers needing treatment for substance abuse disorder. 

To find more resources devoted to infant safe sleep, log onto

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