Infant mortality rates increase across Ohio

Babies born in Pike County are 43 percent more likely to die within their first year than others born in Ohio.

Over the last decade, 39 Pike County infants died before their first birthday, leading to the county having the highest rate of infant mortality in the state. Between 2006 and 2015, Pike County babies died at a rate of 10.7 per 1,000 live births compared to the state rate of 7.5. The county’s neighbor to the southwest, Adams County, was nearly as high with 10.4 infant deaths per 1,000 births for the same period.

Overall, infant mortality rates have been trending downward in Ohio over time, but a new report from the Ohio Department of Health showed a 5 percent increase from 955 in 2014 to 1,005 in 2015. The uptick indicates 2014 may have just been an anomaly – it was the first year infant deaths dropped below 1,000 since record keeping began in 1939.

“Ohio’s infant mortality rates improved faster than the national rates during the past five years. Still, these numbers show that we still have a lot of work to do to save babies’ lives, especially African-American babies,” said Ohio Department of Health Director Rick Hodges. “That is why the state is providing substantial funding to support local initiatives targeting neighborhoods at risk for poor birth outcomes, and it is why we are encouraging communities to pursue identified promising practices in reducing infant mortality.”

Most of the targeted efforts from the state are being put toward cities and urban communities where the numbers of babies dying are highest even though the rate is lower than some rural areas. However, there are some statewide efforts and campaigns, such as safe sleeping education, that the state is handling.

“We know with infant mortality specifically, the best approach in a community is to have the entire community come together to address the issue. We need to have the local health departments engaged, but we also need partners,” said Dr. Mary DiOrio, Ohio Department of Health’s medical director. “We can’t address any of these (public health issues) in silos of public health or hospitals ... We have to look at it as a partnership because we all interact with the community in different ways.

Coordinating efforts can be difficult for communities like Pike County where the Pike County General Health District has had to cut programming. Voters have repeatedly rejected replacing a local levy, which has led to the district paring back to mandated initiatives like restaurant inspections.

Ross County – whose infant mortality rate is slightly better than the state at 7.1 per 1,000 - is facing the same issue after voters also rejected a public health levy, leading this week to cuts such as the women’s health clinic and endangering other programs like the Women Infant and Children (WIC) program.

“We try to network throughout our 13-county region with Job and Family Service departments, the health centers, and we have a team here ... that goes to the health departments to educate and network,” said Jackie Rebman, Adena Health System’s director of specialty services.

Among the goals of the team is to ensure women are receiving the same education on topics from prenatal care and nutrition to how to put your child to sleep safely no matter where they go. Rebman said the team is planning to meet with Pike County partners soon. Adena is still working to boost access to services and programs in Pike County, where it took on the community hospital there in 2012. Currently, Adena has an obstetrician/gynecologist traveling to Pike County for appointments two to three times a week.

Between 2006 and 2015, Richland County babies died at a rate of 6.9 per 1,000 live births compared to the state rate of 7.5 per 1,000.

Although the majority of deaths across Ohio – 66 percent – were within the first 27 days of birth, the increased death rate in 2015 was due to post-neonatal deaths of babies aged 28 days to 364 days. While black infants died at nearly three times the rate of white babies in 2015 – 15.1 to 5.5 – both races had an increase in post-neonatal deaths while deaths within the first 27 days were unchanged or slightly lower.

The majority of post-neonatal deaths – 41 percent - were due to complications related to being born premature while 15 percent were sleep-related, and 13 percent were related to birth defects.

According to data collected in a recent Center for Community Solutions report, 12.3 percent of babies born in Ohio between 2010 and 2014 were premature. Women who receive late or no prenatal care are at higher risk for delivering early.

Not surprisingly, due to its status of having the highest rate of infant deaths, Pike County also has the highest percent of babies born premature - 15.2 percent. However, Holmes County – home of the state’s largest Amish population – had the lowest percent of women receiving prenatal care in the first trimester - 38 percent compared to 72 percent statewide.

In Richland County, 11.3 percent of babies were premature, and nearly 71 percent of the mothers received prenatal care in the first trimester.


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