Local health officials address high infant mortality rate

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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) – Health officials in the Wabash Valley are two years into a four year grant worth $900,000 dollars designed to bring down the infant mortality rate.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, 602 infants died in 2017 statewide, 29 of which were in the Wabash Valley.

The grant has been funding Perinatal Navigators, eight of which fluctuate between OB physician’s offices around the region.

“I meet with the mothers who are expecting babies and we meet them as much as possible throughout their pregnancy,” explained Perinatal Navigator/RN Sarah Fagg. “We just provide a lot of support, a lot of connection to resources based on whatever their needs and stressors are at home.”

“I love the relationships and the bonds that I have. And being able to guide, especially young moms down a path that maybe they hadn’t thought about, what they’re capable of,” said fellow PN/RN Shane Wilson-White. “I absolutely love that.”

Thirteen of those 29 regional deaths were in Vigo County, a phenomenon Daniel Hardesty, Research and Programs Coordinator for the Richard G. Lugar Center said is due to poverty.

“The Wabash Valley as a whole on average is poorer than the rest of the state of Indiana,” he explained. “Health factors are usually a lot worse than the rest of the state of Indiana.”

In addition to providing parents with access to pre and post natal care, Perinatal navigators address health problems that could impact mother and baby during pregnancy.

“The biggest thing probably would be substance use including smoking. A lot of our moms smoke,” said Fagg. “And smoking is known to have a negative impact on pregnancy and infant outcomes. So we do connect families to support to quit smoking.”

Navigators also educate parents on the importance of Safe Sleep, a habit which should be practiced from birth until the baby is one year old.

“The ABC’s of safe sleep in a nutshell are, babies need to sleep alone, on their backs and in a crib or bassinet,” explained Wilson-White. “And it needs to be free of anything soft which includes blankets, stuffed animals, pillows and bumper pads.”

Since the PN program took off in 2017, 200 families across the Wabash Valley have benefited from their guidance and resources.

“The idea of being in homes and helping families isn’t new. Lots of programs are doing something like that,” said Fagg. “But the idea that we are in the office and see moms during their pregnancy, I would say is definitely something new.”

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