Faith-based leaders work with officials to lower high infant mortality rates

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - The infant mortality rate in Toledo is among the highest in the country.  State and local government leaders are trying everything they can think of to change that statistic.

Jointly, the Governor's Office of Faith Based Community issues, The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, and Toledo-Lucas County Getting to 1 Commission, as in getting to one year-old, held a meeting with local religious leaders to see how their outreach can help solve the problem.

The statistics are truly alarming; there were 41 infant deaths in Lucas County in 2016 with black babies three times more likely to die before their first birthdays than all other races.

The Ohio Department of Health released a plan in 2017 that addresses maternal and child health, and infant mortality as a statewide priority.

Celeste Smith Minority Health and Community Supervisor for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department organizer of Tuesday's event emphasized the importance of getting the word out and statistics down.

"This is not a health issue, it's not a community service issue, this is a community issue, and it's going to take all of us and we need to include our faith-based leaders in bringing this awareness out into our community," said Smith.

Community partners from local hospitals, care groups, Governor Kasich's office, and local faith-based leaders got together for the first time to discuss the issue of infant mortality head-on.

Facts were presented to this group and these leaders shared ideas on how to better inform the public. This information sharing program allowed the packed house of attendants to discuss programs that they now offer and how to share those throughout our diverse community.

Leaders were given information and discussed what their outreach looks like, not just to mothers who may need help or education, but those around them who may have a significant impact in their child's life.

Tim Clark founder and Senior Pastor of Harvest Christian Center reflected on the meeting.

"It is now our job as pastors to see how we can mobilize a lot of the access to this stuff that the county's offering, the state's offering, and I think that's going to be our job moving forward to help reduce infant mortality in our communities," Clark said.

Dr. Robert Birt, Senior Pastor at Glass City Church of Christ agreed.

"Yes, and also we learned that there are a lot of things already going on in the community, so we need to collaborate, need to have a conversation, and then we need to get the word out," said Dr. Birt.

In addition, the Ohio Department of Health Today issued east Toledo Family Center, Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center and ProMedica Toledo Children's Hospital nearly a quarter of a million dollars in federal funding for home visiting services to women during pregnancy, and to parents with young children in Lucas County who are at risk for poor birth or developmental outcomes.

The gr ant targets communities with high rates of infant mortality, poor birth and child developmental outcomes, high occurrences of teen pregnancy, and families living in poverty.

Ohio's home visiting program, called "Help Me Grow," is administered by the Ohio Department of Health, and home visiting services are provided locally through a statewide network of local agencies. ,More information about Ohio's Help Me Grow home visiting program can be found here.

More about the Ohio Department of Health's strategies can be found here and here.

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