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How First Year Cleveland is combating infant mortality in Northeast Ohio: Game Changers

'I think I've always had these high expectations for myself and knew that I would be instrumental in provoking some type of change.'

CLEVELAND — Angela Newman-White considers herself a fixer. For the past 20 years she has worked in maternal and infant health, helping to elevate voices who need to be heard.

Now, she faces a huge challenge as she steps into her new role as the next Executive Director of First Year Cleveland.

"I just feel like it's in my blood or in my heart to help people and help communities," Newman-White told 3News' Dave Chudowsky in a recent interview. "I think I've always had these high expectations for myself and knew that I would be instrumental in provoking some type of change.”

First Year Cleveland is public-private partnership now housed at Case Western Reserve University’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. The organization was formed in 2015 to help address Cuyahoga County’s concerning infant mortality rate, which has been one of the highest in the country for more than five decades.

"We've got to fix a broken system because the system has been broken, historically broken. And so I think that we haven't set up anyone equitably for success," she said. "In Cuyahoga County, Black women are three times more likely to lose their baby as white women," Newman-White explained.

First Year Cleveland’s mission is to ensure that every baby celebrates their first birthday.

"The leading causes of infant mortality are prematurity. So that's any baby born before 32 weeks gestation," Newman-White said. "So our job here at First Year Cleveland is to not only provide the education and the support for the communities, but then also to advocate on a policy level to provide better conditions for families to thrive."

The higher the rates of infant mortality, the less healthy a population is overall, and it touches more lives than we may even know. Newman-White said she believes the key to addressing the issue starts with the communities most impacted.

"I think that a lot of changes are made at high levels without consideration of how it translates on the ground, and the answers are actually within the communities. And so I think by engaging people with lived experience of whatever you're trying to address, when in this case, infant mortality and using that to drive the decisions, I think that's at the root of how do we start this."

And while prematurity is the leading cause of infant death, Newman-White says it's all needs to start with better addressing the health of mothers.

"Prematurity is actually dependent on mom's health and wellbeing prior to her even becoming pregnant," Newman-White said. "And so trying to shift the narrative from focusing on the infant dying to mom's overall health and wellbeing is the challenge."

Now a Twinsburg resident, and married with an 8-year-old son, Newman-White says it's her childhood growing up with a single mom in Shaker Heights that inspires her every day.

"We grew up in poverty and she couldn't make ends meet...I just watched her struggle...and I knew I wanted to help people," she explained. "And so this is a way that not only can I help pregnant women, but I can also be looking to address those larger structures that impact everything when we're talking about education, transportation, food, access. I mean, this is going to be so much bigger and infant mortality just going to be one of the benefits."


Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in an unrelated story on Dec. 19, 2022.

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