The Ohio Department of Medicaid has awarded two Lucas County organizations $2.2 million for community initiatives to decrease infant mortality.
The funding comes at a time when area agencies have been consistently struggling to lower the rate of infants dying before their first birthday — particularly for black infants who have long consistently fared worse than their white counterparts.
Out of the 41 babies who died in the county in 2016, black infants made up 22 — or 53 percent — of those deaths compared with the 19 babies who were white. Statistics for 2017 have not yet been released.
Health Commissioner Eric Zgodzinski said the $2.2 million awarded to two Lucas County organizations to combat infant mortality is an opportunity for the health department to broaden community ties in this area.
A total of $2,206,645 will go to the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department and Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio from the Medicaid department and its five managed care plans.
The hospital council will use the funding to expand its Pathways HUB, which identifies women most at-risk for pregnancy-related complications and helps them remove barriers to having a healthy baby who reaches age one. The organization will add 13 additional community health workers as well.
“This money gives us the opportunity to serve even more families and make strides for moving the needle on infant mortality,” said Carly Salamone, assistant director of Northwest Ohio Pathways HUB program. “We have so many women in need of the services and not enough community health workers and feet on the street.”
Health Commissioner Eric Zgodzinski said the money is an opportunity for the health department to broaden community ties in this area.
“It’s a chance to partner with different organizations and be inclusive about how we attack infant mortality,” he said, adding that the department is always looking for new ways to make its programs more effective and bring new perspectives to the table.
The $2.2 million awarded to Lucas County is part of the Medicaid department’s plan to dedicate $26.8 million over the next two years “to support community-driven proposals with proven track records that will help combat infant mortality at the local level,” according to the funding announcement.
“It’s promising to see the local community coalitions that have been formed in recent years to bring local coordination and leadership to addressing infant mortality,” Ohio Medicaid Director Barbara Sears said in a statement. “We realize this is a complex issue that will take all of us working together at the state and local levels to help more Ohio babies reach their first birthdays.”
Organizations in Butler, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Lucas, Mahoning, Montgomery, Stark, and Summit counties received funding. Those areas were identified by state officials last year for additional intervention.
Nine metropolitan areas in those counties account for 59 percent of all infant deaths and 86 percent of African-American infant deaths in 2016, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
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