The Indiana State Department of Health has awarded $12.9 million in competitive Safety PIN (Protecting Indiana’s Newborns) grants to hospitals, health care groups and nonprofit organizations for projects designed to help reduce Indiana’s infant mortality rate.

One Community One Family, based in Batesville, was awarded $2.1 million, reported ISDH media relations coordinator Kenneth Severson.

Executive director Brenda Konradi was ecstatic her application was successful. "We're just always excited to be able to bring opportunities here. A lot (of the grant money) doesn't stay within One Community One Family. We work with other partners. We're all about bringing other agencies together. It helps our nonprofit communities and our families."

Only one-third of applicants – 10 of 31 – received grants. She believes OCOF was chosen "because of the collaboration and partnership. We have so many agencies we work with. We have that history and reputation."

The rural nature of southeastern Indiana also made a grant more likely. In the application's executive summary, Konradi wrote, "This brings challenges as many live in isolated areas and services are often lacking, or they are experiencing the challenges that come from being so near a metropolitan area, such as Cincinnati, and now southeast Indiana has experienced a sharp increase in opioid abuse in recent years. Data also shows that the region has low health rankings, higher teen birth rates and a lack of health/mental health services, which all increase the risk for infant mortality."

One Community One Family will take the lead on the Safety PIN grant and Choices Coordinated Care Solutions will be the primary partner with an evaluation team from Indiana University to ensure that PIN continuously improves and uses data. Konradi explained that Choices Coordinated Care Solutions, a nonprofit based in Indianapolis, offers services statewide. "They do a really good job of providing care coordination. The staff is really good at working with people to get all the things they need lined up."

The $2.1 million will be used over the next four years to aid pregnant women and new parents living in Franklin, Ripley, Dearborn, Decatur and Ohio counties. "It's a lot of staff cost and training," she pointed out. "There are always new things we can learn to increase our skills, particularly around substance abuse."

OCOF staff will focus on three populations: high risk, such as pregnant teens and pregnant women with substance abuse and/or mental health issues; at risk women who are isolated or lack access to services; and the general population.

A Project LAUNCH federal grant received by One Community One Family that targets early childhood ends in nine months. The new Safety PIN dollars will "help us to continue some of that work and expand beyond that."

OCOF employees will use a three-tiered approach to reach mothers-to-be and new parents. The grant application noted, "The collaboration will implement prenatal care coordination to address high-risk populations; Incredible Years parenting programs, trauma and depression screenings and increased provider capacity through trainings and consultation to address at-risk populations; and outreach efforts and education to address the general population. By taking the tiered approach, the impact can both be targeted and broad so that no one 'falls through the cracks.'”

In the executive summary, the executive director wrote, "The project will be overseen and guided by the local Young Child Wellness Council to ensure that it is truly collaborative and comprehensive and not about any one agency or strategy."

The Young Child Wellness Council meets in Versailles monthly. Current members are Ann-Marie Marsh, Margaret Mary Health, Batesville; Karen Moore, Southeastern Indiana YMCA Child Care, Batesville; Dr. Lisa Kelley, Children's Health Care, Batesville; Kathy Riley, parent, Batesville; Denise Burton, Indiana Department of Child Services, Versailles; Vicky Powell, Ripley County Health Department, Versailles; Cheri Jones, grandparent, Milan; Amy Matzet, Southeastern Indiana Economic Opportunity Corp. Child Care Resource and Referral, Aurora; Barb Andrews, Southeastern Indiana Economic Opportunity Corp. Head Start, Aurora; Sandra Gabbard, The Villages Healthy Families, Greensburg; Tracy Mock, Community Mental Health Center, Lawrenceburg; Virginia Sinkhorn and Karen Snyder, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Lawrenceburg; Becky Cole, Ohio Valley Opportunity Corp. Head Start, Madison; Christy Hales, First Steps Southeast Region; Erica Roberts, Ireland Home Based Services Southeast Region; Melissa Adamchik, Tristate Trauma Network, Cincinnati; and Meagan Bennetti and Allison Howland, Indiana University, Bloomington.

If someone knows a pregnant woman who might need help, "she could call us" at 877-967-6263, Konradi said. "We'd certainly connect her to whatever the need might be – a parenting class, getting to health care." Another way to find out what's happening is to check out the One Community One Family Facebook page.

State Rep. Cindy Ziemke (R-Batesville) reported, “Indiana’s infant mortality rate is the fifth highest in the nation. In 2015, House Republicans made addressing infant mortality a top priority, and I’m excited a local health provider developed a targeted, region-based proposal to reduce this alarming statistic. I’m confident this grant money will create new opportunities to help women in our community get in touch with doctors earlier in their pregnancies and give their children the best possible start in life.”

Konradi agreed, "A lot can be done to help families and pregnant moms when a lot of people work together. We all want to work together to reduce infant mortality."

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.

State and county statistics

Infant mortality is defined as the death of a baby before his or her first birthday, according to an ISDH news release about the grants. The most common causes are serious birth defects, preterm birth, low birthweight, sudden unexpected infant death syndrome, unintentional injuries and maternal complications of pregnancy.

In 2014, the last year for which completed data are available, 597 Indiana children died before the age of 1. A disproportionate number of those were African-American or Hispanic.

The 2014 Hoosier infant mortality rate was 7.1 deaths per 1,000 live births. The ISDH Healthy People 2020 goal is 6.0.

The southeast Indiana rate that year was 5.8, but the Indiana State Department of Health report noted that number is unstable. Three infants under 1 died in Dearborn, three in Ripley and one in Decatur County in 2014, according to the ISDH report. All were white. No infant deaths were reported in Franklin and Ohio counties, probably because there are no hospitals there.

Over the five-year period 2010-14, there were infant deaths in the targeted counties: Dearborn, 16; Ripley, 13; Decatur, eight; Franklin, four; and Ohio, three. All were white except for one black baby in Dearborn County, a different ISDH report stated.

The state agency has created a plan to reduce Indiana’s rate by focusing on key areas, including decreasing the number of elective deliveries in counties with the highest risks, decreasing the number of infant suffocation deaths by promoting safe sleep practices, ensuring pregnant women receive prenatal care and decreasing smoking rates among pregnant women.

To learn more about how you can help reduce Indiana’s infant mortality rate, visit the ISDH Labor of Love website at www.laboroflove.in.gov.

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