By Erin Ryan and Kezia Ofosu Atta, Policy Assistant, Groundwork Ohio Follow Kezia on LinkedIn
Infant mortality is an issue that has garnered more attention in recent years. You may be surprised to learn that Ohio has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the country at 6.7 infant deaths (under age 1) per 1,000 births. Along racial lines, this rate is even worse. Per 1,000 live births, Black infants in Ohio had the highest infant mortality rate at 13.6, Hispanics at 5.2, Asian/Pacific Islanders at 4.1, and non-Hispanic at 6.8. The rate for white babies is 5.1.
The disparities are evident even with the technological advancements available, and regardless of racial identity, we should not be losing infants at this rate.
Celebrating the Wins and Amplifying the Needs for More Progress
There have been some concrete policy wins to support infant vitality efforts in the state, such as the passage of increased funding for Home Visiting within the state operating budget. However, crucial progress still needs to be made to ensure every child can thrive, particularly in addressing racial disparities in outcomes facing Black babies.
Groundwork Ohio is one of many organizations across our state that have been advancing the work to address infant and maternal mortality. At the regional level, there are collaborative efforts that convene community members, parents and caregivers, local government leaders, and health care professionals to drive forward community-focused work.
As a collective group, these leading regional organizations – specifically CelebrateOne (representing Franklin County), Cradle Cincinnati (representing Hamilton County), First Year Cleveland (representing Cuyahoga County), and the Ohio Collaborative to Prevent Infant Mortality (OCPIM) – united to organize the state’s first-ever Infant Vitality Advocacy Day on September 13th. The event brought together passionate advocates, health care professionals, and community leaders in the maternal and infant health space to advocate with legislators the need to advance policy initiatives that strengthen health outcomes for moms and babies.
Ahead of Advocacy Day, the group hosted a legislative reception to celebrate the accomplishments of advocates and legislators to provide a strong foundation for mothers and babies by addressing maternal and infant mortality and improving conditions for families to thrive. Members of our team had the opportunity to attend this reception, joining in the celebration of the progress that has been achieved.
The next day, these leaders from Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati came to the Capitol to attend legislative meetings where they promoted a shared agenda to their lawmakers.With a focus on raising awareness and advancing policy priorities, Advocacy Day attendees shared their personal and professional experiences working to promote stronger maternal and infant health outcomes. They advocated for progress on legislation that will strengthen infant vitality, including Ohio House Bill 7 – The Strong Foundations Act.
Infant Vitality Supports in Ohio House Bill 7
Infant vitality support, which is also a provision in Ohio House Bill 7, will be pivotal in reducing infant mortality. Ohio House Bill 7, aimed at promoting and supporting strong foundations for Ohio mothers and babies in their first 1,000 days to address maternal and infant mortality, lies in the Ohio House of Representatives, awaiting floor votes for potential passage.
The bill, also known as the Strong Foundations Act, was introduced by Representatives Andrea White (R) of Kettering and Latyna Humphrey (D) of Columbus, to promote the well-being of Ohio’s mothers and children by funding services that could prevent incidents that could lead to death. If passed, the bill will appropriate $1 million in Fiscal Years 2024 and 2025 to fund Centering Pregnancy Services and other evidence-based and evidence-informed group pregnancy education programs and target outreach to areas with gaps in such services. The provision will also appropriate $1 million in the same fiscal year to establish a community-based grant program to expand access to infant vitality support. Therefore, we applaud First Year Cleveland and their partners in their advocacy efforts to ensure that infant vitality is a priority in the Ohio legislature.