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Local groups to get $850,000 to fight infant mortality

  • Robreyonna-Johnson

    Robreyonna Johnson, 21, holds son Robert, 3 months. She had a high-risk pregnancy and benefited from working with a community health worker at Mercy Health Children's Hospital. Ms. Johnson spoke at a news conference Friday announcing $850,000 in state funds to Lucas County organizations to combat infant mortality.

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  • Sandra-Oxley-Ohio-Department-of-Health

    Sandra Oxley, chief of maternal, child and family health at the Ohio Department of Health, discusses a $850,000 grant awarded to organizations in Lucas County to target neighborhoods at high risk for infant mortality.

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  • Selena-Coley-Hospital-Council-of-Northwest-Ohio-s-Pathways-HUB

    Selena Coley, project coordinator at the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio's Pathways HUB, discusses $850,000 in state funding for infant mortality prevention programs in Lucas County on Friday at One Government Center.

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A new pilot program aimed at improving Lucas County’s infant mortality rate in high-risk neighborhoods will be funded with $850,000 from the Ohio Department of Health, officials said Friday. 

The funding, coordinated through Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio, will target seven census tracts where residents are identified as at high risk for pregnancy complications, premature birth, and infant mortality. 

State officials identified Lucas County because of its large disparity in birth outcomes for black and white babies, said Sandra Oxley, chief of maternal, child and family health at the Ohio Department of Health.

“Here in Lucas County, 41 babies died before their first birthday in 2016,” she said. “And Lucas County isn’t alone. Statewide, African-American babies die at nearly three times the rate of white infants. Ohio is committed to responding to this alarming disparity.”

Ms. Oxley said Ohio must do better.

In 2016, black babies in Lucas County died before their first birthdays at a rate almost three times greater than white babies, according to state and local data. Despite progress in overall infant mortality rates, the racial gap remains and has been a target for health officials. Athens and Cincinnati also received funding for pilot programs.

Funding will pay for four AmeriCorps community liaisons to work with existing home visit programs through Mercy Health, Neighborhood Health Association, ProMedica, and the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.

The pilot program will recruit 150 women in the targeted census tracts for participation in programs to help them deliver and raise healthy babies. They will also be eligible for rental assistance and funding for transportation and utilities. 

“We believe having more pregnant women enrolled in this program in home visiting programs for support will improve their outcomes,” said Selena Coley, project coordinator with the hospital council’s Pathways HUB. “Providing financial support for housing and transportation will help lessen some of the primary health-related concerns home visiting clients have.”

The seven census tracts are in the 43604, 43608, 43609, 43611, and 43620 ZIP codes.

The goal is to help mothers like Robreyonna Johnson, who gave birth to son Robert three months ago. Ms. Johnson, 21, had a high-risk pregnancy and connected with Alexis Williams, a community health worker at Mercy Children’s Hospital who helped her find a doctor, attend appointments, and find a new apartment.

“Thank you for helping me be a good mom,” she said to Ms. Williams, who held Robert as Ms. Johnson spoke. 

RELATED: Lucas County unveils health improvement plan

Infant mortality is one of four priorities identified in the Lucas County Community Health Improvement Plan released this week, along with addiction, mental health, and chronic disease. It is also a priority in the statewide health improvement plan.

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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