Wednesday, Oct 17, 2018
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Health officials to meet with Toledo religious leaders to combat infant mortality


Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect that an event previously scheduled for Friday has been canceled due to winter storms. It will be rescheduled at a later date. 

Representatives of Gov. John Kasich’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives are planning to come to Toledo to discuss with community leaders ways to reduce the area’s infant mortality rate. 

This meeting will be an opportunity to invite and educate leaders of Toledo-area religious organizations to take action in reducing infant mortality, said Sandy Oxley, chief of maternal child and family health for the Ohio Department of Health. 


Celeste Smith, pictured in 2016, is the coordinator of Minority Health at the Toledo Lucas County Health Department.

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“We know that the faith community can reach individuals in a way that governmental entities can't,” she said. “They can serve as credible messengers [of information].” Representatives from the Ohio Department of Medicaid and Ohio Department of Health will also participate in the discussion.

Infant mortality rates, or how many babies die before their first birthdays per 1,000 live births, have been persistently high.  

Lucas County’s black infant mortality rate was 14.2 in 2016, compared with 5.0 for white infants, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Premature birth, birth defects, and sleep-related issues are the top three causes of infant death in Ohio.

The Toledo-Lucas County metro area was one of nine identified by the state for increased intervention because of high infant mortality rates. The Ohio Equity Institute is a partnership between the Ohio Department of Health and nine local health departments in Butler, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Lucas, Mahoning, Montgomery, Stark, and Summit counties.

In Lucas County, those efforts are headed up by the health department and the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio. 

Bringing faith-based organizations into the conversation about infant mortality is crucial, said Celeste Smith, community and minority health supervisor at the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department. 

“We have done a really good job, involving professionals, social service agencies, and the hospitals,” she said, but have not yet engaged clergy on a larger scale. “The community looks up to them, and we need to use them to help decrease disparities.”

The event, originally planned for Friday, has been canceled due to winter storms, though a make-up date has not been announced. .

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

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