News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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March 28, 2014

INFANT MORTALITY: Task force seeks reduction of ‘persistent problem’

TERRE HAUTE — A group of health experts Thursday emphasized the need to combat disturbing infant mortality rates in the area, encouraged community involvement and unveiled three ways to help address the issue.

The Wabash Valley Healthy Moms and Babies, also known as the West Central Indiana Infant Mortality Task Force, had its community kickoff meeting on Thursday at the Landsbaum Center for Health Education in Terre Haute.

Indiana State Health Commissioner William C. VanNess II, in his opening remarks, expressed concerns about the persistent high infant mortality rates in Indiana. He said the state typically ranks 45th-worst in the country for infant mortality.

“Indiana does not fare well,” he said.

In 2011, the rate was 7.68 deaths per 1,000 live births, VanNess said, compared to the 6.05 national rate. The state “unfortunately” typically stays “above 7,” he said.

“So we have a long-term persistent problem of high infant mortality in Indiana,” VanNess said.

Current state statistics also reveal that 16.6 percent of pregnant women in Indiana smoke, compared with the national average of 9.1 percent. Vigo County’s statistic is at 21.1 percent.

Members of the task force include Jack Turman Jr., dean of the College of Nursing at Indiana State University; Stephanie Laws, executive director of Rural Health Innovation Collaborative; Elizabeth Burrows, CEO of Valley Professionals Community Health Center; Jeena Siela and Marilyn Carter, both of the Maternal and Child Health Division of the Indiana State Department of Health.

The task force aims to work toward “optimizing birth outcomes for rural women, providing great starts for babies, and building hopeful, healthy neighborhoods,” Turman said at the beginning of the panel discussion.

At the meeting, attended by more than 50 health care professionals, community leaders, non-profit organization representatives, educators and students, the task force presented startling statistics about infant mortality in Indiana and its eight-county areas of focus — Clay, Greene, Owen, Parke, Putnam, Vermillion, Vigo and Sullivan.

Statistics from ISDH reveal Vermillion County’s infant mortality rate is at 19.8 (per 1,000 live births), followed by Parke County at 16.7. Owen County is at 13.3; Greene at 11; Putnam at 11.1; Clay at 9.8; Sullivan at 4.3 and Vigo at 6.9. Some of the causes of infant mortality include low birth weight and sleep-related accidents, the experts said.

Because infant mortality is one of the key measures of the status of the health of a state or the nation, VanNess said, it is important to help address this issue. And the solution, he said, is community-based.

The task force aims to use a community-based approach and to mobilize the community to actively engage in participating in three activities:

• The group aims to sponsor five community stakeholder learning forums to discuss priorities and solutions. The outcome they hope for is “to increase community capacity in four organizations in the Wabash Valley to promote healthy birth outcomes,” according to the presentation.

• Establish a regional fetal and infant mortality review board to help meet the group’s goal of promoting data collection on the causes of fetal and infant deaths in the region, which can later be used to “implement targeted prevention and intervention strategies.”

• Create a pregnancy peer support training program and an associated app for women. The group wants pregnant women in the Wabash Valley to have access to trained peer supporters. The app is to help support, healthy pregnancies, according to the presentation.

The task force encouraged each attendee to get involved, and also announced that it will utilize social media to communicate with the community, among other methods.

The hour-long meeting also included remarks from ISU President Daniel Bradley and an open forum discussion.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or

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