Infant mortality rate among blacks plummets

BY TERRY FLORES
tflores@kenoshanews.com

Kenosha County’s black infant mortality rate continues to decline and was lowest among counties in southeastern Wisconsin, according to the last three years of data culminating in 2011.

The rate was 4.0 per 1,000 live births, according to an analysis from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services provided by Kenosha Area Family Aging Services Inc. on Monday.

Rates in neighboring counties were higher. In Milwaukee County the rate was 14.6 per 1,000 births, while in Racine it was 13.1 per 1,000 births. The statewide rate was 13.9, according to the data.

Over the last decade, the Kenosha County rate is 11.2 per 1,000 live births. By comparison, the white infant mortality rate for the same period was 4.8, 57 percent lower than that of the black rate, said Gary Brown, executive director Kenosha Area Family and Aging Services.

While the death rate over time continues to be high among African American infants, health and medical officials cautiously point to progress as the latest data showed that the black rate was lower than that of the white rate, or 4.0 per 1,000 live births compared with just over 4.6 per 1,000, respectively.

Deaths rates among African American children under the age of 1, upon which the the mortality category is based, had been as high as 24 per 1,000 in 2005, when the county’s rate was the highest in the region. Over the last three years, the rate has steadily declined from from 8.3 per 1,000 in 2009 and 6.5 per 1,000 in 2010.

Why the decrease?

Brown said many factors have come into play in the reduction of black infant deaths, of which there was just one in the county in 2011.

Among them have been communitywide initiatives, including the Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families, a $10 million statewide campaign that includes Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee and Beloit aimed at lower the rate.

Another is Kenosha County’s pre-natal care coordination and nurse family partnership programs, which last year received a federal grant to provide more home visitations for pregnant women.

“These local initiatives and all the coordination that is being brought to bear with children and family services is really having a positive impact,” said Brown. “Some of them are really starting to pay off.”

Coalition leads the way

At the heart of this has been the Black Health Coalition, which in conjunction with the United Way, has served to increase awareness among agencies and the public, said Dr. A.J. Capelli, with Aurora Health Care.

Capelli said the coalition, led by Gwen Perry-Brye, nurse practitioner with the county’s division with health, was instrumental in rallying community support among community agencies, health care providers, hospitals, doctors and others.

Another important component, said Capelli, is the “navigator” system in place that identified those pregnant women who were without care. And rather than refer her and others to one doctor, all three local hospitals share in the load.

“The community itself got involved. The African American community through the coalition, through churches, the United Way, education and awareness in meetings with the hospitals, they came together,” he said.

“It used to be one person dealing with all the patients. Now you have all the doctors to all the systems. It’s a community-based approach to help,”

More to be done

The work isn’t done, however, said Capelli.

“Lets keep working on this to make sure it is sustainable,” he said.

Cynthia Johnson, Kenosha County health director, said that she, too, hopes for the sustainability that aims to keep the death rates for all infants low.

Even prior to the statewide campaign, the county had been aware of the high mortality rates among black infants and began its work with the coalition in 2006.

It is just one indicator of a community’s health, but a significant one, she said.

“You’re starting to see some incremental change. It’s the beginning. And as we look at disparities in populations, this is one indicator. We’re also looking beyond just this one indicator, as well,” she said.

She said what the community has done in its attempt to prevent infant deaths is more than just statistics, however.

“I think it’s that expression of Kenosha and that the community matters, and we have generations that care for each other,” she said. “It’s that culture of community and the caring. ... We may not be seeing that in some of the others (counties) like we have here in Kenosha.”

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